Meet the South Dakota student pushing state legislators for student press freedom
Only 14 states have laws protecting press freedom for student journalists, and Gage Gramlick hopes to make South Dakota the 15th.
Gage is a senior at Lincoln High School in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and the editor-in-chief of the Statesman, a 50-student online and print news publication. He shared his experiences working with state legislators and building a coalition supporting student press freedom.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell me how you got involved in press freedom efforts in South Dakota.
I went to the Newsroom by the Bay workshop between my sophomore and junior year to refine some skills before becoming editor-in-chief. (The Statesman) had been censored previously, and I didn’t think a lot about it because it was kind of the norm. When you have nothing to compare yourself to, it’s not as big of a deal.
When I went to the workshop and was surrounded by amazing journalists from around the country, many without prior review, I was astounded by that and it shifted my worldview. I realized there is another option and we can fight to have journalism that is valid in South Dakota.
How did you get started working on the bill?
It was basically self-education for civics, because I hadn’t taken a government class yet and had to teach myself a lot about how South Dakota government works. I did lots of research on the process and South Dakota politics and had to synthesize that into an achievable plan.
Once I figured out the first step was to get a representative on board, it seemed a lot easier. Jamie Smith is one of the few Democrats in the South Dakota House of Representatives, and he was really helpful — I knew him previously because I knew his son.
I had sample legislation from California that had been passed and a mission statement of why I wanted to fit this bill into the context of South Dakota. We’re very proud to be from South Dakota and we don’t like it when out-of-state interests come in, so we have to be very careful to not scare anybody off with legislation from California. It’s really about framing the bill to your audience.
How did you frame the bill to legislators?
It’s awesome because it supports freedom of expression for student journalists and allows civically minded students to engage. Jamie was an immense resource in figuring out the linguistics to be successful.
After we met and he adopted the bill, I worked with the South Dakota Legislative Research Council to change the language from the California bill to South Dakota language. Certain aspects in California were going to be major friction points for South Dakota Republicans, so we had to change the layout and some of the language to soften it and make it easier to swallow.
After that we went to the House, and I testified in front of the House Education Committee of 12 Republicans and two Democrats. We got shot down 11-3, which was actually better than I expected. It’s such a hard bill to get passed and the superintendents of South Dakota came against us, which was hard to overcome.