The First Amendment: what it means to a student journalist

As stated by the constitution:

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 Amendment is nothing new to a journalism student in her fifth year of college. Most journalism courses I’ve taken have even begun with an entry quiz, “name your first amendment rights.” Despite how much I’ve studied journalistic laws and ethics, I’m constantly reminded of just how valuable they are to me as a journalist (and budding photojournalist), and why as a student I’ve been ingrained to know my journalistic rights, and realistically, limitations.

This lesson in particular drove home the lesson that the First Amendment doesn’t make a journalist untouchable by the law — not by a long shot. It doesn’t give a journalist the right to manipulate the truth (also an ethical issue) or interfere with a story. Even if you are directly obeying your First amendment rights, you run the risk of police interference, as we’ve learned from countless examples including the Lima tank plant incident involving Toledo Blade reporters. This was also seen with the journalist arrests during the Ferguson unrest. Good journalists are still arrested in 2015, and police may overstep their legal boundaries. In these cases, knowing your journalistic rights and freedoms is not only an academic suggestion, but a legal necessity.

Another point driven home by this week’s lesson was the ethical responsibility of journalists to cover the truth, regardless of how downright depressing the content may be. We do this because journalists have a fundamental responsibility to the public to accurately report information. Why? To give the public all the information they need to make informed, responsible decisions. Photographing a brutal drunk driving car crash seems crass and invasive, but it gives the public the truth and when presented with the disgusting truth of drunk driving, maybe they’ll think twice.

So, I’m still a student — why am I choosing a path that could lead to such headaches, heartaches and potentially life-altering consequences? Because, as put by Lori King, “Depressing news is the price we pay for democracy.” A free press is not the product of democracy, but the requirement. There is not a democratic nation without a free press.


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