Monday, March 24, 2008

2nd Place Student Essay from Jordan Taylor of Greenfield

“Why Free News Media Are Important – Full Disclosure
2nd place entry in 2008 SPJ Student Essay Contest - Southwest Missouri
By Jordan Taylor, Greenfield High School, Greenfield, Mo.

Freedom of the press is fundamental to the success of any truly free society. Without freedom of the press, citizens can be deceived and indoctrinated with corrupt government propaganda.

Active free press deters government corruption. If citizens are made fully aware of irresponsibility by their elected or appointed officials, they will more than likely take action to protect personal interests. However, in order for press to be truly free, there must be a system of government in place in which the press not only has freedom, but protection under the law as well. It is one thing to tout freedom of the press, but to create an environment in which the press can report sometimes controversial viewpoints without fear of government suppression is quite another. Citizens must also be offered this same protection; in order for free press to be utilized, citizens must be made sure that if their beliefs and opinions differ from that of others, they will not be subject to persecution.

News organizations should be, by design, independent of any and all political affiliations. Government should not impose upon the freedom of the press to provide the public with information, but neither should news organizations filter all news items through a prism that reflects only one political viewpoint. The press has every right to expose injustice. However, the press should not draw conclusions. Instead, they should provide the public with every shred of information available so people can make their own well-informed opinions.

It could be said that with great freedom comes great responsibility. This is very applicable in journalism. Along with the freedom to report any side of a news story comes the great responsibility to report all sides of that news story. Full disclosure is what makes free press free. Free press does not only refer to the freedom that news organizations have to report, but also the freedom of people to know the truth. Government controlled press and biased news organizations have one primary similarity: both rob the public of the truth that is necessary to be free from the bonds of ignorance at the hands of a communistic government.

Every right that Americans are entitled to hinges on the fundamental and inalienable right to the freedom of information. Every person has the right to think, speak, and conclude without being afraid of consequences. News organizations have an obligation to provide citizens with a 360 degree panorama of every issue so that informed decisions can be made. Knowledge is power and freedom. It is the role of the free press to facilitate and protect every citizen’s fundamental right to know.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Why Free News Media Are Important - 1st place entry

“Why Free News Media Are Important”
1st place entry in 2008 SPJ Student Essay Contest - Southwest Missouri
By Rachel Holcomb, homeschooled, Strafford, Mo.

You wake up in the morning to your alarm clock, roll out of bed, shuffle to the front door, peek out to make sure no one is out there to see you, dash out to grab the morning newspaper, and slam the door behind you. You then try to accomplish the extremely difficult task of reading the paper and walking to the kitchen - at the same time.

You have now had your first exposure to free news media.

Next, after finally making it to the kitchen, you turn on the small TV on the counter to watch the morning news while you make a pot of coffee.

You have now had your second exposure to free news media.

After the news is over, you run back to the bedroom and get ready for the day, then sail out of the house and into your SUV to go to work. As you sit at a red light, you turn on the radio, and –

You have now had your third exposure to free news media.

Within an hour or two of getting out of bed in the morning, the average American has been exposed to free news media multiple times.

What do free news media allow? They allow us to get news and other information that is largely free of government influence. They allow us to state our opinions freely without fear of repercussions. They allow us to have a say in matters of importance.

Why are they important to us? They are important because having a free media means that we are not getting a biased opinion on everything. The government does not filter everything we hear; we are able to hear more than one side of a story.

What would it be like to not have free news media? Picture yourself in a country where the government filters everything. Any news (such as a car chase, a big storm down on the coast, the way the President dealt with a certain situation) would be the government’s side of the story. All the information you received would be the government’s opinion. You would receive only one view on everything. Because you might have the police come to your front door to take you to jail for opposing the government, you would not be able to state your opinions freely. The government would dictate everything. This would be a country without free news media. We do not want that to happen to our country.

So, what do free media mean to America? Free media mean that the government does not filter the news we receive – we do not get a biased opinion on everything; they mean that we can state our opinions freely without fear of repercussions; they mean that we have a say in matters of importance.

We, as American people, need to protect our rights to free news media.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Missouri’s Sunshine Law is important to members of the public, not just journalists

Missouri’s Sunshine Law is an important, but misunderstood, tool for both the public and the news media. That is an important message to communicate during Sunshine Week, March 16-22, 2008.

It may come as a surprise to know that the Sunshine Law is not designed to benefit the news media. The law is designed to protect and inform the public.

The law actually opens doors so both reporters and individuals can see government at work, and find out how taxpayer money is being spent.

The Sunshine Law helps us watch what public officials are doing and it also allows the media to watch on our behalf.

Missouri’s legislators passed their first version of the Sunshine Law in 1973 (with major revisions in 1998 and 2002), just a few years after the federal Freedom of Information Act was enacted. But the fact that this is a fairly new law is important to remember.

The “right to know” is not a constitutional right, but a statutory one. So, only legislative support can save Freedom of Information laws like the Sunshine Laws.

That means public knowledge and support for FOI laws, like the Missouri Sunshine Law, are vital to the future of these laws in our democracy.

During my reporting and professional career, I have heard some people refer to the requirements of the Missouri Sunshine Law as a “waste of time.”

It isn’t so much the posting of notices that most of those complainers were talking about. Rather, it was the general concept of doing public business in public.

I would argue that trying to dodge the requirements of the Sunshine Law is a waste of time. Doing so often creates other unnecessary problems for public officials, boards and political subdivisions.

The Sunshine Law applies to all records, regardless of what form they are kept in, and to all meetings, regardless of how and where they are held.

The law does allow a public body to close meetings and records to the public, in limited circumstances, but it almost never requires a public body to do so.

Another thing worth noting about the Sunshine Law is that it requires a public body to grant access to open records it already has. It does not require a public body to create new records in response to a request for information.

The Sunshine Law also says a public body generally must give at least 24 hours' public notice before holding a meeting. If the meeting will be closed to the public, the notice must state the specific provision of the law that allows the meeting to be closed.

Copies of the Missouri Attorney General’s Sunshine Law booklet can be requested by calling 895-6567. Additional information and forms can be found online at

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Journalism Created Initial Awareness of Nation's History, MU Study Finds

American history is referenced in news features, profiles and analysis pieces, giving meaning to current events, discoveries and individuals. A University of Missouri researcher recently completed a study on the use of historical references by journalists in the 19th century, a time when the United States had little or no published history records. The study revealed that 19th century American journalism was significantly influential in shaping the nation’s early history.

Betty Winfield, Curators’ professor of Journalism at MU, based the study on 2,000 magazine and newspaper headlines from various publications throughout the 19th century. Organizing titles into particular groups and tracking patterns, Winfield found an increase in historical references from the beginning of the century to 1900, when historians first began recording the nation’s past. Winfield said journalists created a particular national story by referencing certain people and events, which emerged as collective memory.

“Magazine and newspaper journalists played a crucial role in publicizing national history before there were professional historians,” Winfield said. “Magazine circulation was increasing, production was easy and distribution was free to the public. Journalists began writing longer news stories and, by connecting events of the present to the past, they created meaning and placed the news in context for their readers.”

To understand patterns and themes and illustrate how journalists progressively used history, Winfield said it was necessary to examine journalism’s public role throughout the 19th century. The study found historical references were primarily used for context and placement; other themes included nostalgia, values and analogies.

“We found that selective bits of history were used by journalists,” Winfield said. “Stories were aimed toward a certain Anglo-Saxon, white male nation. Usually women, African Americans, Native Americans and immigrants were not portrayed. This selective media proved very influential on the nation’s culture.”

Other studies have focused on specific events or shorter time periods, and no previous study has examined historical references in news accounts during the 19th century, according to Winfield.

“Nineteenth century journalism reiterated a particular American story, not only to those who had been here awhile, but also to new immigrants. These reports shaped the definition of America and gave the United States a national identity,” she said.

The study, “The Continuous Past: Historical Referents in Nineteenth-Century American Journalism,” was published in Journalism and Communication Monographs. Janice Hume, associate professor at the University of Georgia and Winfield’s former doctoral student at MU, co-authored the study.

For more information, contact Emily Smith at (573) 882-3346, or via e-mail at