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The Rebirth of the First Amendment

I spent 44 years of my life in newspapering and I loved the daily grind of trying to tell stories about what might mean something in the lives of readers — to inform them, amuse them, touch their hearts and minds, to shock them with revelations about what the hell is going on out there.

It’s a frustrating profession. You’re bound by the taste and judgment of the audience, the standards of the profession, the limited vision of your newspaper and most of all during my years in the business, the bean counters whose only interest is to drive profit margins of 20, 30 event 40 percent at some papers.

That isn’t why the American revolutionaries wrote the First Amendment with all that stuff about freedom of speech and of the press.

When they made those ideals the cornerstone of our country, there were more than 100 papers in Philadelphia and not a single reporter. Anyone who owned a press could print a newspaper and say whatever they wanted and what they wanted to say was often so scurrilous and defamatory that they would be driven into bankruptcy today by high-priced lawyers even if what they printed was true and defensible.

Today, it’s not like that at all. Corporate monopoly journalism denies the basic right of free speech to the reporters and editors who work in the mainstream media. Sure, they sneak in bits and pieces of themselves and the super-talented can actually express themselves but fundamentally newspapers, radio and TV news people are product manufacturers, and never more so than today when news media are dying from the decline in audience and advertising.

There is a lot of important information in the media but truth isn’t what I say or you say, it’s what survives over time out of the collision of ideas and information that come from everyone having a voice and sensible people maintaining a healthy degree of skepticism.

I’ve long said, with some irony, that newspapers should be licensed because they are not exercising the First Amendment. As an editor, I was pretty far out there pushing the point of view of the Daily News as the voice of the Valley. A lot of me was in that voice and a lot of the staff’s as well but I can tell you being able to write on this blog is a whole lot closer to who I am than anything i wrote or edited in the last 44 years.

In truth, I’m just learning to write from my heart, from my beliefs, my vision, my knowledge. I may be right or wrong about things and I’m certainly going to change my mind  as time goes by. The only truth I know is my own and it doesn’t matter whether you agree or disagree with me as much as whether you join in the public conversation and speak your own mind.

And that’s the point. The Internet represents a revival of free speech as it was envisioned when America was founded. A lot of people are speaking their minds in public and being heard by others who themselves are starting to speak out.

The rebirth of free speech is just in its infancy. We’re learning as readers to be skeptical again, I hope, and  bloggers — even mainstream journalists –are learning every day how to communicate better, to engage facts more honestly and fully, to speak without filtering. They are learning that because all news people, pros and amateurs alike, are basically town criers and gossips and compulsive talkers. They want to know what’s going on and want everybody else to know too.

So welcome to the new world order where we all can say what we mean and mean what we say, at least when we say it. That’s the cornerstone of freedom and democracy.

Could there be a more hopeful sign?

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3 Responses to The Rebirth of the First Amendment

  1. anonymous says:

    “I spent 44 years of my life in newspapering and I loved the daily grind of trying to tell stories about what might mean something in the lives of readers — to inform them, amuse them, touch their hearts and minds, to shock them with revelations about what the hell is going on out there.”
    It really shouldn’t be called “newspapers” any longer. That’s old thinking. Newsmedia, then?
    It really shouldn’t be accessed so two dimentionally. Exchanges should be multi-media, ie. text, sound, video. Exchanges should be anytime, temporally free.
    It really shouldn’t be so catagorically limiting. There are better ways to find what we want than blogs. But, it’s a start.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Newspapers have lost sight of the fact that it’s a business. It use to be that newspapers sold entertainment. They also sold promotion. Now, they sell mostly propaganda. The problem is… that not many people like being told that they’re wrong when they know that they’re right.

  3. Steven U says:

    “In truth, I’m just learning to write from my heart, from my beliefs, my vision, my knowledge. I may be right or wrong about things and I’m certainly going to change my mind as time goes by. The only truth I know is my own and it doesn’t matter whether you agree or disagree with me as much as whether you join in the public conversation and speak your own mind.”
    Ron, I think that was the truest line in this piece. I’m so glad that you are finally getting the chance to find your own voice. Those of us who know you have long felt that you had a few amazing books inside of you.

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