Above: Alumna Samantha Hamilton reading UC Santa Cruz’s publication City on a Hill Press (photo courtesy Samantha Hamilton)

In September 2022, when Samantha Hamilton first walked into the New York Times building to begin her yearlong First Amendment Fellowship, she felt instantly connected to the newspaper’s more than 150-year history and long line of journalists. 

She talked about a small museum exhibit inside the Times building that contains old press passes issued in the 1940s and ’50s, historic printed issues, and items Times reporters used during their coverage of the summer of 2020 uprisings following the murder of George Floyd. 

“I looked at the bulletproof vests that reporters went out with, at the gas masks and the helmets with ‘Press’ labeled in big letters across the top,” Hamilton said. “And I just couldn’t help but get really emotional looking at all of it … and feeling like, ‘Wow, I am joining a piece of history right now.’”

For her fellowship, Hamilton counsels New York Times reporters on the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and various states’ public records laws. She also represents reporters in administrative appeals and FOIA litigation in federal court. 

Hamilton’s interest in civil rights and social justice began at UCSC, she said. Three years as a reporter for City on a Hill Press (CHP) and an internship with the Lakota People’s Law Project ignited a passion that inspired her to earn a J.D. from UC Berkeley School of Law (2020), work as a First Amendment Clinic Legal Fellow at the University of Georgia School of Law, and then become a Justice Fellow at the civil rights law firm of Loevy & Loevy, where she litigated wrongful conviction and prisoners’ rights cases in federal court. 

Samantha Hamilton counsels New York Times reporters on the federal Freedom of Information Act and various states’ public records laws. (Photo courtesy Hamilton)

“As a student journalist writing for CHP, I was in situations [off campus] where I covered protests, and police were throwing tear gas,” Hamilton said, referring to a 2016 campaign rally held by former President Donald Trump in San Jose that turned violent. 

Hamilton and two CHP photojournalists drove to San Jose to cover the event for UCSC. 

After the rally, Hamilton saw fights in the streets, and the above-mentioned police use of tear gas. 

“There were brawls,” she said. “I saw that happen, and I was interviewing people who had just gotten out of a fight. That’s honestly one of the most formative experiences I’ve had. And I didn’t have a bulletproof vest. I didn’t have a helmet on. Going from that experience at UCSC to now working at this multinational news behemoth feels like I’ve come full circle.”

And speaking of full circle, once Hamilton completes her year at the New York Times, she will start a position as a staff attorney in the First Amendment Clinic at the University of Georgia School of Law, where her professional legal career began. 

“There are so many news deserts out there, especially in rural areas,” she said. “So my goals in this next position are to affirmatively reach out to different independent and nonprofit journalists and newsrooms to try to support them.

“I loved my time at UCSC, and I get a lot of personal satisfaction out of mentorship,” she added, reflecting on those formative years. “There are so many people who helped me along the way, and so I try to ‘lift as we climb.’”

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