In most of the country, the kind of reporting I did in Narragansett no longer exists. Original, on-the-ground reporting the kind of reporting built on a deep understanding of people, places, and issues . . . the kind of reporting that requires time, resources, and the steadfast support of journalistic institutions (and sometimes their lawyers ) . . . the kind of reporting that provides the common facts that bind communities together and the oversight to hold leaders accountable. That kind of reporting is disappearing as the news industry continues its long, heartbreaking collapse.
Youve all felt the impact of that collapse. Youve felt it inside newsrooms, as friends and colleagues lose jobs they loved. Youve felt it in your hands, in ever-thinning local papers. And youve felt it in your communities, which are steadily more disconnected and divided.
We all know the two main factors behind this collapse one connected to how publishers fund news and one connected to how people find it. The advertising-based business model that supported American newsrooms buckled, causing the rapid loss of more than half the journalism jobs in the country and leaving news organizations struggling to pay for original reporting in the public interest. Meanwhile, the tech platforms became the most powerful distributors of news and information in human history, straining the direct relationship between journalist and reader that is essential for maintaining trust and loyalty. As a result, readers are increasingly unsure of what news is and where it comes from, making it easier for bad actors to unleash a flood of misinformation that has corrupted public understanding.
This is the moment when Im supposed to pivot and say that things are looking up. The truth is, theyre getting worse. Thats because theres another existential threat to journalism today, and far too few of us are talking about it.
Were losing popular support for the free press in this country. Over the past few years, weve witnessed the most sustained attack on the legitimacy of journalism in our history. Its an attack with catchphrases plucked from the mouths of tyrants and dictators. Fake news. Enemies of the people. Traitors. And a growing portion of the country believes these dangerous, misleading accusations.
Trust in independent news is evaporating and cleaving. A majority of Republicans now think the news media is better characterized as the enemy of the people than as an important part of democracy. More than 80 percent would rather get their news directly from President Trump than from the media. And there is evidence that skepticism of journalism is expanding across the political spectrum. A majority of Americans, regardless of party, do not trust the media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly. And, perhaps as a result, nearly a third believe the government should be able to shut down news organizations.
With the news industry already struggling, this erosion of popular support for the press poses a threat not only to journalists and journalism but also to the very notion of truth and the health of our democracy. Weve already seen influential individuals, companies, and even nations exploit the trust vacuum to serve their own interests. Its the powerful, not the people, who benefit from a weakened press.
One of the lessons of the last few years is that our countrys institutions and norms are more fragile than we had assumed. And while law and precedent are valuable shields, public support for the principles of free expression and a free press is what gives them their enduring power. Look at Turkey or Hungary or India to see how quickly things can change when a society stops fighting for its democratic institutions.
So this is our task, all of us in this room. We must convince people that the free press is worth fighting for.
Its not enough to talk airily about holding power to account. We cant just assert the importance of bearing witness. It is time to stop talking about the First Amendment as an abstraction. Instead, we have to make powerful, practical arguments rooted in the lives of people and communities.
Heres a start. The free press lets you know how your tax dollars are spent. The free press makes sure that your kids health isnt jeopardized by contaminated water. The free press makes sure that the hospital you visit isnt spreading antibiotic-resistant germs.
The free press makes sure that the planes you fly in, the pharmacies you rely on, the banks that safeguard your savings are worthy of your trust. The free press shows how climate change may threaten your home and, if the worst happens, why your insurer may not be there to help.
The free press ensures you are protected by a justice system that jails the guilty and frees the innocent. The free press helps you make an informed decision about who to support for county clerk and who to support for president.
In a country with a free press, a new and deadly virus is promptly acknowledged and addressed, not hidden by the government until it becomes an international pandemic. No democratic country with a free press has ever suffered from a famine.
I think we can all agree that the press isnt perfect. We make mistakes, sometimes big ones. And when we do, we own up to them, and we strive to do better. But the imperfections of journalism make it no less essential.
At a moment when support for the press is fracturing along ideological lines, we must remind people why enshrining it in the First Amendment was one of the few areas of true consensus among the nations founders and why it remained so through our history. If youre a conservative, Id remind you that the free press protects against government corruption and overreach, provides businesses and entrepreneurs with the reliable information that fuels economic growth, and helps spread democracy around the world. If youre a liberal, Id remind you that the free press provides the scrutiny that keeps corporate power in check, interrogates the true impact of American interventions abroad, and makes sure that everyone, especially the little guy, has a voice.
A detailed, compelling accounting of the value of the free press is an essential message to share. But weve been delinquent messengers, taking far too long even to recognize that the message needs to be delivered.
Of course, as we make the popular case for the First Amendment, we have to keep fighting to fortify its legal framework. Across Democratic and Republican administrations, legal efforts have attempted to weaken safeguards for journalists and their sources. Activists, many politically motivated, are increasingly seeking to punish outlets for publishing unflattering information. These trends threaten decades of hard-won legal precedent. So we need to keep filing FOIA requests, battling libel lawsuits, pushing for whistle-blower protections, and doing all we can to defend the publics right to know.
To keep the First Amendment strong, we need to not only defend it in court but also convince our friends and neighbors why it matters to them on a personal level. They may not get a newspaper delivered to their doorstep, but the stakes of this struggle already reach inside their home.
If weve learned anything from the experience of the last few years and from the struggles of our colleagues reporting in repressive nations around the world its that we cannot take the free press for granted. And nothing is more perilous to a free society than when the public loses its reliable sources of information.
How to save journalism - The Boston Globe
- Lobbying frenzy connected to stimulus sparks backlash | TheHill - The Hill - March 26th, 2020
- Judge rules lawsuit alleging Trump threatened free press can move forward | TheHill - The Hill - March 26th, 2020
- Trumps Coronavirus Briefings Are a Ratings Hit. Should Networks Cover Them? - The New York Times - March 26th, 2020
- Relist Watch: 100 years of solitude - SCOTUSblog - March 26th, 2020
- Donald Trump Must Face First Amendment Suit for Revoking Press Badges - Hollywood Reporter - March 25th, 2020
- Robbins: Freedom of worship and the strange case of Warder Cresson - Vail Daily News - March 25th, 2020
- MuzzleWatch: Breaking down the legal attack against the BDS movement - Mondoweiss - March 25th, 2020
- Coronavirus in Arizona: Mayors, cities can't close parks, essentials without going through Governor Ducey - ABC15 Arizona - March 25th, 2020
- Misplaced outrage over who attends a White House press conference | TheHill - The Hill - March 25th, 2020
- Donald Trump Violated First Amendment by Blocking Critics on Twitter, Appeals Court Affirms - Variety - March 24th, 2020
- Sixteen Stormy Days: Tripurdaman Singh's account of the First Amendment to Indian Constitution makes for... - Firstpost - March 24th, 2020
- Keep Federal COVID-19 Package Focused on the Virus and Its Effects - Mackinac Center for Public Policy - March 24th, 2020
- WEHOville Asks John Duran to Stop Blocking It and WeHo Residents on Social Media - WEHOville - March 24th, 2020
- Letter: Government actions going too far on virus - Grand Forks Herald - March 24th, 2020
- First Amendment - Rights, U.S. Constitution & Freedoms ... - March 19th, 2020
- The First Amendment, a Philosophy Professor, and Pronouns - Daily Nous - March 19th, 2020
- Sunshine Week: It's always your right to know - The Highland County Press - March 19th, 2020
- Relist Watch in the Time of Cholera - SCOTUSblog - March 19th, 2020
- Obey the Law - Justia Verdict - March 19th, 2020
- Transparency is transforming | Columns - Weatherford Democrat - March 19th, 2020
- NIST shared dataset of tattoos thats been used to identify prisoners - Naked Security - March 19th, 2020
- PATRIOT Act Morass: Gains and Stalled Reforms - Project On Government Oversight - March 19th, 2020
- COVID-19: Press Freedom and Government Transparency - RCFP - Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press - March 19th, 2020
- Trump Isn't the First President to Attack the Press - The Nation - March 19th, 2020
- Rat spotted in Vancouver, Washington - Nwlaborpress - March 19th, 2020
- The Cyberlaw Podcast: Will the First Amendment Kill Free Speech in America? - Lawfare - March 5th, 2020
- The University's First Amendment Rights | Leadership in Higher Education - Inside Higher Ed - March 5th, 2020
- Sen. Blumenthal to receive the First Amendment Defender Award - WTNH.com - March 5th, 2020
- Will the First Amendment Kill Free Speech in America? - Reason - March 5th, 2020
- Donald Trump And Charles Harder Continue Their Assault On The 1st Amendment, Suing The Washington Post - Techdirt - March 5th, 2020
- Do Non-Lawmakers Have A First Amendment Right To Speak Before A Legislative Body? Its A Question In Texas After A Man Testified Wearing A Profane... - March 5th, 2020
- Guest Column: On the 1st Amendment and restrictive resolutions - Oak Ridger - March 5th, 2020
- Sen. Ron Wyden, Rep. Ro Khanna introduce bill to reform Espionage Act - Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press - March 5th, 2020
- Cuellar holds off primary challenge, and other late calls - Politico - March 5th, 2020
- San Francisco expected to pay $369,000 settlement to Bryan Carmody - Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press - March 5th, 2020
- EARN IT Act: Instant Reaction - Morning Consult - March 5th, 2020
- Judge: Hearings for Fauquier teen charged in fatal family shootings will remain closed - Fauquier Times - March 5th, 2020
- 'Second Amendment Preservation Bill' Passes Wyoming Committee - Kgab - March 5th, 2020
- Bloomberg Slayed the Myth That Money Buys Elections - National Review - March 5th, 2020
- Negligible 'Never Bernie' - National Review - March 5th, 2020
- Stars and Stripes and the First Amendment - Columbia Journalism Review - February 15th, 2020
- New Graphic Tobacco Warnings and the First Amendment - Newswise - February 15th, 2020
- COMMENTARY: Focus on when the First Amendment protects ... and when it doesn't - Crow River Media - February 15th, 2020
- Its Illegal to Take Drone Photos of Cattle Feedlots in Texas. Press Groups Say That Violates the First Amendment. - The Texas Observer - February 15th, 2020
- FIRST FIVE: Focus on when the First Amendment protects and doesn't - hays Post - February 15th, 2020
- Amend the Hatch Act and Restore Federal Workers' First Amendment Rights - FedSmith.com - February 15th, 2020
- Our View: Be more inclusive for all holy days - The Register-Guard - February 15th, 2020
- Pelosi, a Ripped Speech, and the Records Debate - FactCheck.org - February 15th, 2020
- Can the Constitution stop the government from lying to the public? - The Fulcrum - February 15th, 2020
- ZACHARY: First Amendment advocates warn of media oversight - Tifton Gazette - January 27th, 2020
- Letters mis-stating the First Amendment and Trump flags - Villages-News - January 27th, 2020
- Witness to the PERSECUTION | Columns | Journal Gazette - Fort Wayne Journal Gazette - January 27th, 2020
- Other voices: Money, speech and truth - St. Paul Pioneer Press - January 27th, 2020
- Over the line in comedy | My View - Santa Fe New Mexican - January 27th, 2020
- Social Studies in the real world: Raceland teacher takes his class on field trip to fiscal court - The Independent - January 27th, 2020
- Reporters Face New Threats From the Governments They Cover - The New York Times - January 27th, 2020
- The First Amendment and Supreme Court | Opinion | dailyitem.com - Sunbury Daily Item - January 25th, 2020
- President Trump Restores the Original Intent of the First Amendment - CNSNews.com - January 25th, 2020
- Letter to the Editor: Supporting the We the People Amendment - Wicked Local - January 25th, 2020
- Gazette opinion: Senate restrictions are an insult to First Amendment - KPVI News 6 - January 25th, 2020
- Could Trump Muzzle John Bolton? The Limits of Executive Privilege, Explained - The New York Times - January 25th, 2020
- Throwback Thursday: The First Amendment's Freedom of Assembly in Action in Nutley NJ - TAPinto.net - January 24th, 2020
- It Violates the First Amendment to Criminalize Immigration Advocacy or Giving Advice to Illegal Immigrants - Cato Institute - January 24th, 2020
- Shattering the First Amendment - The Riverdale Press - January 24th, 2020
- The Unacknowledged Clash Between the Supreme Courts Interpretation of the Religion Clauses and the - Justia Verdict - January 24th, 2020
- Guest column: First Amendment on the docket at the Supreme Court - The Mercury - January 24th, 2020
- City of Scottsdale and The Satanic Temple take the stands in First Amendment-based case - FOX 10 News Phoenix - January 24th, 2020
- Hearing Wednesday: EFF Urges Court To Rule That Blogger's Opinion of Open Source Licensing Agreement is Protected by the First Amendment - EFF - January 24th, 2020
- Choice in education could have impact on 2020 vote - Boston Herald - January 24th, 2020
- GOP candidates outline platforms in their first 14th District debate - Northwest Herald - January 24th, 2020
- HB 2093 Introduced to Nullify Any Violation of 2nd Amendment Laws - Prescott eNews - January 24th, 2020
- Salman Rushdie, Jonathan Franzen, Amy Tan and Over 160 More Call for Babson Adjunct Professor to Be Reinstated - Boston magazine - January 24th, 2020
- AG Ferguson leads multistate lawsuit over new Trump Administration effort to allow release of 3D-printed guns - Access Washington - January 24th, 2020
- Lobby Day attracts 2A advocates from the NRV and beyond - Southwest Times - January 24th, 2020
- Op-ed: Did the University forget about the first amendment? - The Michigan Daily - January 18th, 2020
- Facebooks Soleimani Ban Flies in Face of First Amendment - Common Dreams - January 18th, 2020
- Trump Takes Steps to Protect the Right to Pray in Schools - CNSNews.com - January 18th, 2020
- Breaking down the first amendment lawsuit against Florida State Representative Spencer Roach - Fox 4 - January 18th, 2020
- 10 years later, Americans stand opposed to Citizens United | TheHill - The Hill - January 18th, 2020
- Letter: It's the First Amendment that needs sanctuary protection - Verde Independent - January 18th, 2020