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
- Army esports team denies accusations of violating First Amendment, offering fake giveaways - ArmyTimes.com - July 21st, 2020
- FIRST FIVE: Fighting over the meaning of First Amendment freedoms - hays Post - July 21st, 2020
- My View: In Provincetown, strange views of the First Amendment - Wicked Local Provincetown - July 21st, 2020
- John Bolton Gambles That Constitution Will Save Profits on Book That Was Embarrassing to the President - Law & Crime - July 21st, 2020
- Second Circuit Wrecks All Sorts Of First Amendment Protections To Keep Lawsuit Against Joy Reid Alive - Techdirt - July 21st, 2020
- Editorial A flushtrated community: Potsdam trampling on First Amendment rights of toilet artist - NNY360 - July 21st, 2020
- This Week in Technology + Press Freedom: July 19, 2020 - Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press - July 21st, 2020
- Churchill: Troy preacher has the right to offend - Times Union - July 21st, 2020
- More conferences cancel fall sports and other COVID-19 news - Inside Higher Ed - July 21st, 2020
- First Amendment on the street | Opinion | dailyitem.com - Sunbury Daily Item - June 30th, 2020
- Taking a cellphone video of police? Theres a First Amendment for that - Seattle Times - June 30th, 2020
- First Amendment Bars California from Requiring a Proposition 65 Glyphosate Warning - JD Supra - June 30th, 2020
- Read the First Amendment | Letters To The Editor - The Central Virginian - June 30th, 2020
- First Amendment right to protest is in jeopardy in Jacksonville - The Florida Times-Union - June 30th, 2020
- Pence says First Amendment is why Trump campaign held Tulsa rally despite local health officials' warnings - Yahoo News - June 30th, 2020
- Supreme Court hands win to religious schools | TheHill - The Hill - June 30th, 2020
- Letter to the Editor: Remember and Defend the First Amendment - Dana Point Times - June 20th, 2020
- Another look at the First Amendment | Opinion - Franklin News Post - June 20th, 2020
- Death threats protected by First Amendment, attorney says - Alpena News - June 20th, 2020
- Really Pathetic: First Amendment Expert Torches DOJ Efforts to Stop John Bolton Book - Law & Crime - June 20th, 2020
- The First Amendment protects attorneys from compelled speech | TheHill - The Hill - June 17th, 2020
- Protesters are protected by the First Amendment and will not be cited any violations if they remain peaceful - WATN - Local 24 - June 17th, 2020
- Dear Journal: That's some amendment, that First Amendment; let's use it - The Daily World - June 17th, 2020
- Barr Threatens Suit To Stop Boltons Book Because The First Amendment Is, Like, More Of A Suggestion Really - Above the Law - June 17th, 2020
- NASCAR tossed out First Amendment and more letters to the editors - Chattanooga Times Free Press - June 17th, 2020
- Snap's decision to restrict Trump is within its First Amendment rights, CEO says - CNBC - June 17th, 2020
- First Amendment rights? Only for the Left - Must Read Alaska - June 17th, 2020
- "Vocational Training Is Speech Protected by the First Amendment" - Reason - June 17th, 2020
- A North Carolina professor who sparked outrage with his tweets still has his job. Why? It's called the First Amendment. - USA TODAY - June 17th, 2020
- Opinion: 1st Amendment rights apparently only apply to the left - Juneau Empire - June 17th, 2020
- If you're planning to take part in protests, know your rights. Read this. - CNN - June 17th, 2020
- Opinion: Trump's Antifa crackdown treads on First Amendment - The Detroit News - June 17th, 2020
- First Amendment Rights and Twitter, Encryption Backdoors - Security Boulevard - June 1st, 2020
- Arrest of CNN Crew in Minneapolis a 'Violation of First Amendment' - Voice of America - June 1st, 2020
- Trump, Twitter and the First Amendment - The New York Times - June 1st, 2020
- First Amendment Group Opposes Webinars On Toll Roads - WUSF News - June 1st, 2020
- ACLU issues warning to police to protect First Amendment rights of protesters - KATC Lafayette News - June 1st, 2020
- Federal, California and Local Law Enforcement's Statement on the Death of George Floyd and Riots Says They Will Continue to Work Together to Protect... - June 1st, 2020
- First Amendment Legal Expert Floyd Abrams on Trump's Chilling Executive Order Designed to Kill Free Speech - Showbiz411 - June 1st, 2020
- DC mayor institutes curfew and urges calm after weekend of unrest - KEYT - June 1st, 2020
- Open season on the free press: Journalists targeted in attacks as U.S. protests rage - Reuters - June 1st, 2020
- RCFP condemns attacks against journalists covering protests - Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press - June 1st, 2020
- Day 3 of protests in Portland, Oregon over death of George Floyd - KGW.com - June 1st, 2020
- As Waves of Protest Surge Across America - The New York Times - June 1st, 2020
- Trump Executive Order Violates the First Amendment - SF Bay Area Indymedia - June 1st, 2020
- DC mayor urges calm after protests nearby the White House occur for second consecutive night - CNN International - June 1st, 2020
- Man with bow is expected to be charged; Salt Lake City chief decries officer who knocked down elderly man with a cane - Salt Lake Tribune - June 1st, 2020
- Trump Executive Order Misreads Key Law Promoting Free Expression Online and Violates the First Amendment - EFF - May 29th, 2020
- Content Moderation, Section 230, and The First Amendment - AAF - American Action Forum - May 29th, 2020
- Times Union takes First Amendment and Journalist of the Year, 11 other awards in statewide contest - Times Union - May 29th, 2020
- First Amendment May Protect Use of Trademarks As Artistic Expression - JD Supra - May 29th, 2020
- Strictly Legal: Is Fox News entitled to First Amendment protection? - The Cincinnati Enquirer - May 29th, 2020
- Facebook Keeps Touting The First Amendment To Justify Its Content Policies - AdExchanger - May 29th, 2020
- Trump vs. Twitter | Editorials | gjsentinel.com - The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel - May 29th, 2020
- Churches respond to COVID-19, First Amendment ruling - Morganton News Herald - May 29th, 2020
- 'The First Amendment is very clear': Sheriff's Office won't break up religious services for 'NY on PAUSE' violations - The Livingston County News - May 29th, 2020
- RCFP statement on Trump's social media executive order - Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press - May 29th, 2020
- WashU Expert: Trump attacks on Twitter betray free speech principles - Washington University in St. Louis Newsroom - May 29th, 2020
- Reexamining the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act | Morgan Lewis - Tech & Sourcing - JD Supra - May 29th, 2020
- Going to the dogs: the Ninth Circuit's erosion of trademark rights exclusive guest post - World Trademark Review - May 29th, 2020
- First Amendment Lawyer Dismisses Trumps Claim That Twitter Is Stifling Free Speech: He Doesnt Want Critics to Have a Chance to Respond - Mediaite - May 29th, 2020
- Liberals Have Rediscovered the 10th Amendment's Value During the Coronavirus Pandemic - Reason - May 29th, 2020
- Former DNC chair Donna Brazile claims 'theres no First Amendment right to lie. Her co-hosts on The Five erupt in mockery. - TheBlaze - May 29th, 2020
- Supreme Court: Clarence Thomas calls for shrinking the First Amendment - Vox.com - May 14th, 2020
- What words make up a true threat? Well, that depends - The Mercury - May 14th, 2020
- Onslow Sheriffs department will not interfere with indoor church services - Jacksonville Daily News - May 14th, 2020
- Religious freedom is under threat in the courtroom - UPI.com - May 14th, 2020
- Neuberger Demands That Carney Lift Restrictions On Worshipping Now - First State Update - May 14th, 2020
- The First Amendment To the Constitution of The United States of America - The Suburban Times - May 11th, 2020
- Exposing Russian information operations does not violate the First Amendment | TheHill - The Hill - May 11th, 2020
- The Supreme Court Could Use the First Amendment to Unleash a Robocall Nightmare - The Atlantic - May 11th, 2020
- Divorcing couples have First Amendment right to disparage each other on social media, SJC rules - The Boston Globe - May 11th, 2020
- The Price of the First Amendment "Is That We Must Put Up With a Good Deal of Rubbish" - Reason - May 11th, 2020
- Societe Generale: Availability of the first amendment to the 2020 Universal Registration Document - GlobeNewswire - May 11th, 2020
- Governors Can't Suspend the First Amendment - Daily Signal - May 11th, 2020
- Houston strip club allowed to open, but without dancers - KHOU.com - May 11th, 2020
- Lawsuit filed against Marco Island alleges first amendment violation - Marco News - May 4th, 2020
- First amendment rights should not be suppressed, even during pandemic The News Journal - The News Journal - May 4th, 2020
- Urgent Care Doctor Silenced By Youtube Says His First Amendment Rights Have Been Attacked - Sara A. Carter - May 4th, 2020
- 'ReOpen NC' Founder Has COVID-19, Says It Is Her First Amendment Right To Infect Others - Wonkette - May 4th, 2020