Protecting student journalists in Michigan

In August, the John Wall New Voices Act of North Dakota became law, protecting both college and high school student journalists from administrative censorship and faculty advisers against retaliation. The statute has ignited a nationwide movement to enact similar legislation. New Voices campaigns have popped up in half a dozen states — MichiganMarylandWisconsinMinnesotaIllinois and New Jersey — and are being discussed in many more.

Jeremy Steele, a journalism professor and director of the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association, is heading up the effort in Michigan. The SPLC’s outreach intern Danielle Dieterich spoke to Steele in September about how he launched the New Voices of Michigan campaign, where it is now and why he thinks student journalism is worth protecting.

Q. What was the process of getting this off the ground?

Α. We took a lot of inspiration from what happened in North Dakota and the way folks there put together their New Voices coalition. That whole situation kind of changed the way that a lot of people across the country — including us here in Michigan — thought about how to move forward with student expression legislation. We’ve had a lot of support from the Student Press Law Center and from that, we’ve just started to move forward to have conversations with different like-minded organizations that we think also would be supportive of this.

Q. What made you personally invested in the issue of student expression?

Α. I’m the director of our state high school press association, a faculty member in the school of journalism at Michigan State and president of the board of directors of the State News, it’s our campus newspaper. And, you know, I was a student journalist at one time too in high school and in college, and I think it’s important for young people who are doing journalism — whether they are going to be journalists later in life or just going to move on into other careers — to really get that full experience. You can’t be a journalist without practicing those press freedoms, without having the full responsibility of the press on your shoulders, without being able to report issues that matter to your community freely.

Q. Are the organizations supporting New Voices of Michigan mostly collegiate or scholastic or a mix of both?

Α. I would say that the effort right now is really being pushed in large part by MIPA (Michigan Interscholastic Press Association) at the high school level. The College Media Association nationally has put out a statement in favor of what we’re doing in Michigan and we’re having very positive conversations with both the Michigan Collegiate Press Association and the Michigan Community College Press Association. We think it’s important that any legislation that moves forward would include both the scholastic and collegiate communities.

Q. What are the next steps to get legislation passed?

Α. So at this point we are still in kind of a coalition building mode. We’re talking with the two SPJ (Society of Professional Journalists) chapters in our state. Hopefully the Michigan Press Association and [Michigan Association of Broadcasters] will come on board with us, and should that happen, the next step is going to be having conversations with specific lawmakers to see if we can get the legislation introduced. Those two groups (MPA and MAB) have lobbyists and they have experience with getting legislation through the process here in Lansing.

Q. What is it you wish people knew about student press freedom or specifically about New Voices of Michigan?

Α. I think the most important thing for people to learn about is the educational benefit to students at the scholastic and collegiate levels of learning about journalism. On one hand, we are training future journalists but on the other hand, we are giving young people real world, hands-on experience in core American values; the value of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

Especially at the high school level with all the kids who I work with, maybe one or two kids out of any high school program are going to be a journalist, and that means there are 20 to 30 to 50 kids under that program who are going to use those skills in their lives in another way. They’re going to be better communicators, they’re also going to be better citizens: they’re going to know how government works, they’re going to know how to get engaged with an issue in their community and how to improve things.

To get involved in the New Voices of Michigan campaign, visit or email