Free Spirits Need To Fight For Free Speech


Courtesy of Freedom Forum Institute

The students selected for the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference traveled to Washington D.C. for five journalism-filled days.

Kat Schilling, Editor-In-Chief

Over the summer, I was fortunate enough to represent Utah in the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference.  At this conference, one high school journalist from each state and Washington D.C. gathered in Washington D.C. to learn about many different aspects of journalism.  Though there were many incredibly helpful lectures regarding everything from the importance of social media to careers in journalism, the topic that I found to be the most influential was the underlying theme throughout the entire conference.

During the conference, the importance of the first amendment, that is the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of press, right to peaceably assemble, and right to petition, was emphasized.  Because the conference was centered around journalism, the importance of a free press was stressed particularly.  Although the necessity for the first amendment has always been clear, there was one moment during my time in Washington D.C. that made this particularly clear.

In the Newseum, where most of the conference was held, there is a memorial for journalists who have lost their lives simply because they are doing their job.  The memorial contains many enormous glass panels caked with the names of thousands of journalists who have died, with several panels left for those who will pay the ultimate price in the future.  Seeing this memorial and experiencing a moment of silence for these journalists opened my eyes to the fact that there is more than just a negative stigma associated with journalists.  In fact, in some places it is dangerous for those reporting the news.

Although we in the United States are fortunate enough to have a free press, that has recently been under attack.  Those in power in recent years have been notorious for insulting and questioning the work of journalists, and it has begun to take a toll on journalists as well as setting a bad example for what democracy should truly look like.

A democracy is built on the idea that the government should be ruled by the people, and by taking away the peoples’ right to press, their right to criticize those in power begins to diminish.  Word of mouth plays a key role in the distribution of opinions, but if these opinions were unable to be expressed through the press, those in power would no longer have to fear for widespread criticism from the people.  If elected officials are meant to represent the people, it is important that those being represented have a way of expressing how they feel about the choices being made.  Without a free press, the people lose their voice, and they ultimately lose their power.