Society of Professional Journalists honors SPLC’s Mike Hiestand with First Amendment Award

Contact: Frank D. LoMonte, executive director
703.807.1904 /

Attorney Mike Hiestand, who over the last 20 years has provided legal assistance to thousands of high school and college journalists at the Student Press Law Center, is this year’s recipient of the Society of Professional Journalists’ prestigious First Amendment Award.

Each year, the SPJ Board of Directors and the SPJ Freedom of Information Committee recognize individuals and groups for extraordinary efforts to preserve and strengthen the First Amendment.

Hiestand will receive the award Sept. 22 during the President’s Installation Banquet at the SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference in Fort Lauderdale. Former SPLC Executive Director Mark Goodman, who departed in 2008 to become a Professor and Knight Chair in Scholastic Journalism at Kent State University, received the First Amendment Award in 1994.

Hiestand served as the staff attorney for the SPLC between 1991 and 2003 before moving to Ferndale, Wash., where he continued working for the SPLC as a consulting attorney, developing educational materials, teaching workshops and responding to students’ calls for assistance. He stepped aside from his position as Consulting Attorney on June 30 to become president of a family business, Houstory Publishing, but continues advising the SPLC on special projects.
Hiestand was nominated for the award by Neil Ralston, an assistant professor of journalism at Western Kentucky University and a national SPJ board member.

Ralston said, “Mike has been such a strong advocate for the student press over the years that it, frankly, would have been an embarrassment for SPJ if we hadn’t done something to say ‘thank you.’ Now, I’m thrilled that we will recognize him for something the student press as known for a while: Mike’s a true First Amendment champion.”

Hiestand said the SPLC and SPJ have partnered through the years on many efforts, such as the battle for access to campus crime information that started in the 1990’s. Through the SPJ’s support, the SPLC was able to focus attention on the problems concerning access to college police and disciplinary records, which played a large part in legislation and court rulings increasing the transparency of campus safety information.

He said he is humbled to receive the First Amendment Award.

“The student press has a true friend and partner in the SPJ and I am deeply honored to be recognized for the work the Student Press Law Center and the Society has accomplished on behalf of America’s student media over the past two decades,” he said. “Being given an award for doing something you love is just frosting on the cake — but I love frosting!”

Hiestand, who has provided direct legal assistance to more than 14,500 SPLC hotline callers through the years, is also the recent recipient of National Scholastic Press Association’s Pioneer Award and received the Louis B. Ingelhart First Amendment Award from the College Media Advisers.

Hiestand has spoken to thousands of high school and college students at national journalism conventions across the U.S. He is the primary author of the SPLC’s Law of the Student Press reference book and wrote an ongoing media-law column for the National Scholastic Press Association called “It’s The Law.” He is a graduate of Marquette University’s College of Journalism and Cornell Law School.

“When you think of the advocates over the last 20 years who have made the world a better place for journalism, Mike Hiestand’s name belongs right at the head of the list, and it’s gratifying to see his role recognized with such a meaningful award,” SPLC Executive Director Frank D. LoMonte said. “Because of Mike’s efforts, an entire generation has gone out into the world – whether as journalists or just as citizens – better-informed that the law is on their side. The SPJ and Mike Hiestand are two of the best friends that student journalists have ever had, and it’s fitting for their names to be enshrined together.”

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information on SPJ, please visit

Since 1974, the Student Press Law Center has been devoted to educating high school and college journalists about the rights and responsibilities embodied in the First Amendment, and supporting the student news media in covering important issues free from censorship. The Center provides free information and educational materials for student journalists and their teachers on a wide variety of legal topics on its website at