Interview by Devin Yingling, Communications Fellow at the Student Press Law Center. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
This past summer, 19 student leaders participated in the Student Press Law Center’s New Voices Student Leaders Institute – a free online program for students to improve their leadership and organizing skills, develop their role as leaders within the New Voices movement, and identify a strategy that could be instrumental in their state’s New Voices efforts.
This week, we spoke with one of the participants, Madeline Magielnicki, a junior at the Potomac School in Virginia about how she recently got involved in press freedom advocacy, and some key things she learned at the Institute. Magielnicki is the current managing editor for her student newspaper, The Potomac Pulse.
DY: What got you into advocacy work?
MM: I found it after I wrote this article at the end of my freshman year about a peer of mine – who also worked on the same [news]paper – and it was about this award she won for an essay. When I was interviewing her she told me how she wrote about her experience with self-censorship and writing for our school paper, and that really fascinated me because I go to a private school in northern Virginia where a lot of students are very vocal about their opinions and, more often than not, supported by our school faculty in a lot of the things that they say.
So I was just thinking well if this could happen at a place where there isn’t a lot of censorship, then this is definitely happening all the time in schools across the country. Ever since then I’ve been looking for opportunities to get more involved in press freedom activism.
DY: So have you ever experienced self-censorship?
MM: I haven’t self-censored myself, but like I said just being close to somebody, being on the same paper as somebody who felt the need to, ever since then I’ve just been really invested in it.
DY: What drew you to the Institute this summer and what were you looking to get out of the experience?
MM: I think it’s really great to connect with like-minded and passionate people, especially younger ones like myself because oftentimes teenagers my age and people, in general, don’t really know a lot about press issues in our state. So I think to just be [in] the environment where everyone’s informed or is trying to be informed is amazing. You can collaborate, generate new ideas and have meaningful conversation.
DY: What is one of the most important things that you learned while you were at the Institute?
MM: One of my big takeaways was strategic planning because I feel like I have a good sense of the press laws in my state and the pressing issues with journalism freedom in Virginia in general, but what I didn’t necessarily have were the tools to help me organize, acknowledge and utilize it for activism, which I did and I’m doing right now. These tools that they gave me are something that I can use beyond the Institute in all my work.
Do you have any goals for New Voices within your state, either personal goals or in general?
MM: Since I’m new to New Voices in general, I really want to connect with others more deeply. Even though we’ve just started that process, I really would like to learn from them more and ultimately change some of the legislation in Virginia.
DY: Can you tell me a little bit about why New Voices and advocating for a free press is so important, particularly in your state?
MM: Being a student in general, it’s a very formative period in your life where you’re just finding your voice. Being able to do that freely without the interference of state laws, parents or any exterior forces, in general, is really really crucial. It’s what upholds a free democracy.
Virginia particularly has an amended version of a press freedom bill, but it only protects college students. And so what we were talking about a lot during the Institute and what I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is trying to extend that law to high school students too because even though we’re younger, we still deserve a voice and deserve to be informed and allow others to know what’s happening with us too.