Ah, that’s the iconic line. And as I sit today among my fellow educators of future journalists and media professionals in Washington, D.C., it seems a particularly good title.
The free press, one of the institutions the United States was founded upon, has been under concerted attack by lawmakers in power in the U.S. A little more than a month ago, journalists were killed in their own newsroom. Everyday, voices on all parts of the political spectrum voice anger over views expressed in different media: blog posts, social media feeds, varied news outlets both print and electronic. Each difference of opinion can be paired with an accusation that the other side isn’t presenting facts clearly, or, in some cases, at all. Some, in fact, think “disagreeing” with facts as presented is actually fine.
(It’s not. A verifiable fact is not an opinion, and thus cannot be disagreed with. Acceptance of the facts, of course, is another issue.)
When I talk about training future media professionals, I obviously discuss skill sets. Beyond writing and technical skill, however, media professionals need to think critically. They need to ask good questions, verify the accuracy of the facts they’re presented with through unbiased sources, and present the information they received in a compelling, easy-to-understand story that misleads no one.
This is a skilled profession that requires smart, critical thinkers. The ability to use a camera and a microphone does not make one a journalist.
Thomas Jefferson had his share of problems with the press of his time, too. As president, he faced down numerous scandals in the press. But he also firmly believed that a free press was essential to the maintenance of liberty:
“Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it.” –Thomas Jefferson to John Jay, 1786.
And he was against any restriction thereof:
“I am… 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 to Elbridge Gerry, 1799.
You might not be a journalist. But if you’re angry about the things you hear through media outlets, blame the source, not the person presenting it. And if you have something to say, well, a free press has literally never been so free as it is today.