2017 4th Annual Scholarship Winners
The birth of the free press is intricately tied with the birth of America. According to the Newspaper Association of America Foundation, "the concept of press freedom was deliberately constructed by the framers of our Constitution to instill the spirit of independence as an absolute, crucial ingredient in the creation, existence and survival of a free society."
For the 2017 Scholarship Program Powered by the Law Office of Nicholas W. Richardson, please write 500 words about the continued importance of the free press to modern American that relates to your quote selection.
Aidan Busch, Palatine High School, Palatine
In order for a press to consider itself free, it must first be shackled. That was the case with the early American press, which was subject to extensive censorship and regulation by the British Crown during the colonial period. This oppressive restriction of the press is what inspired the part of the first amendment that guarantees Americans will be able to speak their mind: “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” Considering how hotly every word in the constitution was debated, our founding fathers would not have inserted this phrase unless they felt it was absolutely vital.
Benjamin Franklin said that “If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed.” Being one of our founding fathers and an avid newspaper printer himself, Franklin was acutely aware of the threats facing a free and independent press. Americans today are engaging with the press more than ever before — the proliferation of smartphones and the internet has funneled information into the American mind at unfathomable rates. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter make the dissemination of news more engaging and immediate. However, these avenues have the unfortunate consequence of polarizing Americans and presenting them with potentially false information, often called “fake news” in today’s parlance.
This result makes the job of a free and independent press incredibly pertinent. With many Americans believing information that is misguided or patently false, the media has an incredible responsibility to factually report events and stories, presenting them to the public in a clear and concise way. If the press only publishes things that people want to hear, or thinks that a strategy of comfortable reporting will lead to better profit margins, then we as the public are in grave danger.
Many of the key facts that change society and affect people will be uncomfortable at first. Think of the Watergate story, for example. Reports of genocide in faraway lands or the corruption of politicians here at home are never feel-good stories, but they are necessary if we are to be an informed and empathetic people. Benjamin Franklin was a man with more foreign experience than almost any American of the time, perhaps with the exception of John Adams. He witnessed the effects of biased and government-controlled press in France and England, and knew that such a system cannot exist in a democracy.
A truthful press is able to hold its government and society accountable, but this is a weighty responsibility. Without a free and independent press that deals in facts and incorruptible truths, Americans, and humans as a whole, are easily capable of being corrupted and believing whatever they find to be most comfortable.
Gianfranco Torres, Fremd High School, Palatine
A nation consists of millions of different individual voices, each with different ideas and opinions. Our country was born on the virtues of freedom as exemplified through the First Amendment, which protects citizens with many freedoms, including free press. This is vital to democracy in order to preserve the freedom that our founders fought for. In our current age, the liberties stated in the First Amendment are being tested. In order for society to preserve the right of free press, all sides must be presented. Otherwise, as quoted by Benjamin Disraeli, “it is a class publication and not news.” Bias is inevitable in press, due to many people having different perspectives on one topic. Thus, news agencies all report aligning with a specific side. It is important that each side presents their views in order to piece together each part of the puzzle.
Throughout our country’s history there is a tradition of having press conferences between the press secretary and the media. Typically all of the major news agencies are invited, disregarding their political alignment. However, Press Secretary Spicer shook things up when he barred several news agencies, mostly from the opposing political side, from attending a press conference. By barring these agencies, the media is being altered with causing the news to be more of a “class publication.” In order for news to be valid, all sides must be made available to the public.
The presidency should appreciate the freedom of press our country was built on and encourage it because it has pushed us to where we are today. Throughout countless events in American history such as the civil rights movement and the American Revolution, the press has pushed for change by exposing reality. By calling certain news agencies “fake news” and “enemy of the people” the president discourages free press and promotes his views over the views of other citizens. In order to preserve the liberty of free press, all sides of the argument must be heard and encouraged.
Fortunately, current technology such as the internet and social media has redefined the idea of free press. Nowadays everyone is able to easily tweet or post about current events as they experience it. Although it may not always be reliable, social media allows for each individual to express their voice and opinion. The advent of technology is democratizing news by allowing the people to remain in control of their right to free press.
Just as Benjamin Disraeli stated, “NEWS is that which comes from the North, East, West, and South.” In order to preserve the freedom our country was built on we must preserve the right of free press and regard all major news agencies, despite their political alignment. Social media is also vital to ensuring the people remain in charge of expressing their voice. Free press has pushed our country to where we are today and if we hope to keep progressing forward, we must preserve our right and tweet on.
Alexandria Wachal, John Hersey High School, Arlington Heights
Perhaps I'm going to be expressing some bias in this essay, largely due to the fact that I am a part time editor in chief of my school newspaper. I’m very lucky to belong to a paper that isn't censored by the school, but every day I'm aware of other area papers that can't print stories, or have to proof quotes. Never in my wildest dreams would I think that in 2017, our national press would be threatened, in even more serious ways than the neighboring high school paper. Personally, I've always admired Abraham Lincoln and the way he fought for those without a voice. One could argue his chief achievement in office was winning the civil war and passing the emancipation proclamation. What's less apparent, but just as interesting was his immense tolerance for freedom of the press. “Copperhead journalism” (Northern citizens who opposed the Civil War) was at an all-time peak, and Lincoln let much of the headlines against him pass. At one point, quoting, “Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe”.
President Lincoln had many admirable qualities, but I think this willingness to let the press tear him apart for the sake of transparency is one of the most underrated. In a time where any news depicting the government as negative is considered “fake news”, it's hard to imagine a time where papers such as the New York Tribune would print, “Thank God the lawless despotism has ended.” In regards to a trial Lincoln faced for suspending habeas corpus, according to FirstAmmendmentCenter.org. This essay isn't designed to be a love letter to Lincoln’s ability to not want to suspend newspapers after taking a few rough headlines, but this is important to note when we see how far the country has progressed.
In a sense, the country is at a very similar point that it was over a hundred years ago. Tensions are high, people are fighting, and the government is trying to divert us from crisis within the country, but also internationally. The difference? The public is in the dark. Highly credible sources such as “The New York Times”, “CNN”, and “NBC” are being criticized for being “fake news” and biased, shutting out a large portion of where citizens obtain their news. Reliable fact checking sites such as Snopes and FactCheck.com have proven that much of what is printed has been true, a retraction is not proof of fake news, just human journalists. As for bias, the same could be said about other publications, it is up to the public to sift through it and make decisions for themselves.
As a nation, our lawmakers need to understand that the press isn't disappearing, and it can be a powerful ally. Providing transparency to the people will only help heal the deep wounds in this nation, and allow citizens to be more active in government. The best way to keep our country safe, is to allow journalists to do their job.
Victor Wiski, Wheeling High School, Wheeling
My ears ring gray. Eyes shrouded by a gray filter. From the moment of resurrection out of sleep, my thoughts are clouded by gray. Finishing up my morning routine, I relax onto a seat by my graywood table and pick up the newest issue of the New York Grays. Crowning the paper, the headline reads “Gray is the new Black!” As I read through the paper, I'm struck with an intense feeling of déjà vu. I realize that this issue reminds of yesterday's issue. Maybe I picked up the wrong one. Wait, no. This IS today's issue: it says June 8, 1984 in the bottom right corner, but it's exactly the same as yesterday's. I look through all the previous issues and each one begins with the same “Gray is the new Black!” headline. Each “Breaking News!” story was plagiarized off of itself.
U.S. Sen. William E. Borah proclaimed that “If the press is not free, if speech is not independent or untrammeled, if the mind is shackled or made impotent through fear, it makes no difference under what form of government you live, you are a subject and not a citizen.” Living under a democracy is a great privilege; one where the government and its people constantly wrestle for power over one another. While a government may call itself a “democracy,” this precious covenant is perverted by a breach in the balance of power. A democracy is not a government where the press is controlled by “Big Brother,” is not a government where speech is censored for being offensive, and is most certainly not a government in which the controversial thoughts and opinions of its subjects are to be censored though intimidation. A democracy is, however, a government where the press is handled by those who value it the most, a government who allows its citizens to have their voices heard in all matters, a government who understands that their citizens have the right to their thoughts without fear of repercussions.
As the government wages this war over power, one of the people’s most potent weapons is the physical manifestation of their minds, the newspaper. Free press not only serves as a source of information, but also as a means of keeping the government honest. George Orwell, in his 1949 book 1984, brings an authoritarian government existence. One whose slogan is “Who controls the past controls the future.” (Orwell) While an Orwellian future seems far from the current establishment in the United States, it would only be because our press is free and theirs is not. A free press to express free thoughts is the single most important tool at our disposal to which we can use to keep our democracy honest about being by the people and, truly, for the people. The continuation of this most sacred tool must be a priority for the masses living in a democracy.