02/03/05 — Blame? The real enemy could be ourselves

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Blame? The real enemy could be ourselves

“Only half of the students believe newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories.”

“When told the exact text of the First Amendment, more than one in three high school students said it goes ‘too far’ in the rights it guarantees.”

These quotes were taken from an Associated Press story that appeared on Page 1 of this newspaper Monday.

They cannot be taken lightly. They were based on a survey of more than 100,000 students, 8,000 teachers and 500 administrators at 544 public and private schools last year.

The $1 million study was sponsored by the James S. Knight Foundation in conjunction with organizations of newspaper editors and broadcast news directors.

An immediate reaction was that today’s students are not being adequately educated on the importance of the First Amendment. And pathetically few of them have any interest or opportunity in high school to explore journalism as a career. The number of high school newspapers has been in decline.

But before those of us in the ivory towers of journalism point accusing fingers at our schools or our youngsters, let this be a time for sober introspection.

While, as the study shows, most young people are not aware of or have little interest in the details of the First Amendment, they daily and nightly are exposed to the electronic and print media’s exercise of the freedom of the press.

They also must be aware of the people who run for and are elected to service in public office — the “government.”

If half of these young people believe our performance is so irresponsible that our presentation of the news should first be approved by the “government,” the media must seriously consider that the real blame might rest on our stewardship of the First Amendment.

Published in Editorials on February 3, 2005 9:02 AM