Q&A with SPLC’s New Executive Director

Introducing Gary Green

The Student Press Law Center is thrilled to welcome Gary Green as the organization’s new Executive Director as of April 10. A champion of press freedom and students’ First Amendment rights, Gary previously led the Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University. Before that, he served as digital director of University of Florida’s student-driven Innovation News Center and deputy news director for WUFT, the NPR and PBS affiliate for north central Florida. Learn more about Gary’s long history of innovative journalistic and nonprofit work in his full bio.

What drew you to the Student Press Law Center’s mission?

Gary Green: For most of the past decade, I have been working with and teaching student journalists, and in the course of that work, found that despite best efforts of curriculum and faculty, students often don’t clearly understand the law, their rights or know what to do when faced with censorship or push back from administrators or public officials. And, too many times I’ve seen students bullied or completely ignored by those in power or gatekeeping positions. Giving students the tools and confidence to push back is not only rewarding but integral to our democratic institutions. 

While working at the University of Florida, I led several student-driven projects with the First Amendment Foundation of Florida and the National Freedom of Information Coalition. Those projects introduced students to government accountability and transparency issues and provided them practical experience that launched successful careers. Helping students grow and reach their professional goals has been some of the most gratifying work of my career. 

SPLC has been serving students for nearly 50 years and empowering them to use their voice and the law to hold those in power accountable. Joining this historic institution provides me the opportunity to continue this mission-driven work to prepare new generations of watchdog journalists on a national scale. 

Why do you think student press freedom is so important in this moment? 

Attacks on the press are escalating at unprecedented levels while misinformation and disinformation run rampant. Trust in media continues to erode and culture wars are influencing policy and our educational institutions. At the same time, the disruption in legacy media has created a growing epidemic of news deserts and decimated the local news ecosystem to a point where public meetings no longer have a full-time journalist in the room keeping watch. The confluence of these factors can and has led to nefarious actions by elected officials, decreased civic engagement and increased polarization.

Thankfully, student media are filling this void, and in some cases, are the only media covering their community. But that also means they are vulnerable to censorship if their administrations do not agree with their coverage of controversial topics. Students and their advisers need SPLC to fight for them when others stand in their way. Otherwise, those stories never get told. At the same time, SPLC must continue to push for state “New Voices” laws that protect student press freedom. 

What do you hope to accomplish as Executive Director? 

I am humbled and honored to continue the legacy of SPLC and my predecessors Hadar Harris, Frank LoMonte and Mark Goodman. SPLC is entering a new chapter with press freedoms of professionals and students alike under constant threat. It has the largest staff in its history and a growing mission to expand New Voices legislation in all 50 states (17 states so far have signed protective measures for student journalists into law, with West Virginia the most recent addition). We remain steadfast in our commitment to provide free legal services for student journalists and their advisers. I want to expand the reach and impact of SPLC to ensure that every student journalist, regardless of background, type of school and student media, knows SPLC is there to empower them, protect them from censorship and fight for their right to free speech. As part of those efforts, I will be looking for opportunities to partner with HBCUs and students and advisers from underrepresented communities. 

As we prepare for SPLC’s upcoming 50th anniversary, I will be working with our team, alumni, board of directors, attorney referral network, supporters and funders to launch a capital campaign and grow our endowment to ensure SPLC has the resources to meet its growing demands and ensure it remains financially sound to continue this critical work for another 50 years and beyond! 

What is one thing you’re most looking forward to as SPLC’s Executive Director? 

Empowering student journalists with the law to find their voice and use it for investigative and accountability reporting. 

What is your experience with student media? Were you ever a student journalist yourself?

I have been leading student-driven newsrooms since 2014 at the University of Florida and then Kennesaw State University in Atlanta. 

I took a journalism class in high school and soon found photojournalism as a calling after enrolling in Ohio University’s School of Visual Communication. 

Why did you transition from working in a traditional newsroom to working with student journalists?

After 20 years working in legacy print newspapers, I was ready for a change. I started working on my master’s degree at the University of Florida in 2012 and exploring academia as an option for when I completed my degree. At the time, UF’s College of Journalism and Communications had just launched its Innovation News Center, which serves as a “teaching hospital” of journalism where students sit side-by-side with professional news managers and faculty to produce real news for a real audience across TV, radio and digital platforms. The INC seemed like a perfect environment to stay involved in day-to-day journalism while teaching the next generation. I started as the INC’s first digital director in 2014. 

What are some fun facts about you?

  • I started my journalism career in the high school darkroom and spent the first two decades working as a photojournalist. For much of that time, I covered high school, college and professional sports including multiple Super Bowls, World Series, the NBA Finals, NCAA championships, the Daytona 500 and more. Working in Florida for majority of my career, I also covered numerous hurricanes and natural disasters, space shuttle launches, presidential campaigns and high profile trials including the Casey Anthony and George Zimmerman trials. 
  • You will almost never see me without a cup of coffee in my hands regardless of time of day (the curse of working nights and weekends for so many years). 
  • I spend my free time mountain biking and spending time with family. I am a husband to wife Jeanette, father to son Sean and daughter Jessica and grandfather to Kyran.

Now for a speed round! We hear you’re bringing three new mascots to the SPLC family, can you introduce them? 

Ellington (pug), Stella (Frenchie) and Frankie (Frenchie). 

Pick your favorite Gary: Indiana, Oldman, Cooper, the snail from Spongebob, Selina Meyer’s personal assistant on Veep, etc. 

Loved Gary Oldman in “Slow Horses” on Apple TV!

Cake or pie? 

Pie. Always Pie. Florida Key Lime.