When we think about the modern press, we think about monstrous media corporations that have established ethics, standards and practices. In them we find fact-checkers, University-educated journalists, seasoned editors and powerful publishers. For the most part, we still look up to journalists as keepers of the truth. We trust that they have accomplished their due diligence when investigating and reporting on stories.
Now that blogs have permeated the Internet and anyone is free to publish their thoughts, some American politicians are questioning whether or not freedom of the press should apply to blogs. They see a difference between the press and the blog. It’s too bad that our politicians don’t study history, though. The First Amendment was adopted on December 15, 1791, as one of the ten amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights.
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 first newspaper in the New World was Publick Occurences, 3 pages of writing that was quickly shut down since it wasn’t approved by any authority. Here’s what that newspaper looked like.
By the end of the war in 1783 there were 43 newspapers in print. Most of these were newspapers that spread propaganda, were hardly honest, and were written to raise the ire of the colonialists. The revolution was coming and the blog… er the press was quickly becoming key in spreading the word. One hundred years later, there were 11,314 different papers recorded in the 1880 census. By the 1890’s the first newspaper to hit one million copies surfaced. Many of which were printed out of barns and sold for a penny a day.
In other words, the original newspapers were very similar to the blogs we are reading today. Buying a press and writing your newspaper required no specific education and no permit. As the media and the press evolved, there’s no evidence that the writing was any better nor that it was even honest.
Yellow Journalism took hold in the United States and continues today. Media outlets are often biased politically and utilize their mediums to continue to spread that bias. And regardless of the bias, they’re all protected under the First Amendment.
That’s not to say that I don’t respect journalism. And I do want journalism to survive. I believe that educating journalists to investigate, keep tabs on our government, our corporations and our society is more critical than ever. Bloggers don’t often do the deep digging (although that’s changing). We’re often just scraping the surface of topics while professional journalists are afforded more time and resources to dig deeper.
I don’t distinguish the protections of the press with that of bloggers, though. No one can show the line where journalism ends and blogging begins. There are some incredible blogs with materials that are arguably better written and more deeply investigated than some of the articles we see from modern news outlets. And there’s no distinguishing the medium. Newspapers are now read online more than they are in ink and paper.
Our modern politicians should recognize that the modern blogger is very much like the journalists that received protection in 1791 when the First Amendment was passed. That freedom wasn’t about the role of the person writing the words in as much as it was the words themselves. Is the press the people or the medium? I submit that it’s either or both. The goal of the protection was to ensure any person could share their thoughts, ideas and even opinions in a free society… and didn’t constrain the protection to only the truth.
I am for for freedom of the press, and against all violations of the Constitution to silence by force and not by reason the complaints or criticisms, just or unjust, of our citizens against the conduct of their agents. Thomas Jefferson
Our modern politicians are questioning freedom of the blog for the very reasons our forefathers sought to protect the press with the First Amendment.