Kemmeter column: Newspapers protect First Amendment, so far
By Gene Kemmeter
National Newspaper Week begins Sunday, Oct. 6, and extends to Saturday, Oct. 12, giving Americans an opportunity to ponder the benefit of newspapers throughout this nation’s history.
The First Amendment of the Constitution reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The amendment is often called the greatest amendment, guaranteeing freedom of the press, of speech, of religion, of assembly and to petition the government.
The nation’s founders and those who followed invested their lives in those freedoms, protecting religions from theocracies and communist regimes, guaranteeing free speech and the opportunity to redress grievances without fear of opposition denied by China, Saudi Arabia and other nations.
Citizens can express themselves through news media and advocate for their causes, whether they be political or religious, share thoughts and ideas, plan assemblies or petition the government. News media became a personal amplifier for perspectives, engaging communities with wider views.
Freedom of the press is one freedom that was supported in America before the founding of the republic and combines and protects all others, promoting truth as a defense against all evils in legal matters.
For nearly two and a half centuries, journalists have protected those freedoms, allowing readers to question, learn, and disagree. A reporter’s work is often more routine than grandiose, reporting police and fire events, describing the work of government committees and explaining a wide range of human experiences.
Seasoned journalists understand the importance of protecting the First Amendment. They know that telling the truth is most important, a task made difficult when truth is flippantly called “lies” and “lies” are defended as truth.
News media have adopted their role as government watchdogs, reporting when government officials try to overstep their bounds and hinder citizens’ right to information. Because of their pursuit of the truth, journalists work to keep the legislative process transparent and hold government officials accountable.
Defense of the First Amendment is now threatened more than ever before with the decline of newspapers and other news media, along with the reliance of more people on social media for their news. Of course, social media makes money by tracking personal data on internet purchases or website visits, offering “news feeds” to fit individual preferences so individuals never receive information or opinions that might change one’s mind.
The digital revolution has taken its toll on newspapers. First, Craigslist and eBay created advertising options that dismantled classified advertisement sections. Then Amazon chased corporate and local retailers from the marketplace, closing thousands of stores. More than 1,300 communities across the nation that had newspapers of their own in 2004 now have none.
Newspapers need advertisers as well as subscribers. They’ve evolved by going digital to meet demand. But websites with murky credentials try to lure readers to “news” prepared without journalistic standards or ethics. If more newspapers go out of business because of those operations, who will rise to protect the First Amendment in the future?