Sunday, May 2, 2010

Common Sense

I often tell people, with tongue in cheek, “I blog therefore I am.” While I’m jokingly paraphrasing Descartes, there is some truth to the statement. Being someone who thinks about a variety of issues, and not being an ideal public speaker, blogging is my best way of expressing such thoughts without having to sell a publisher on each idea. Lately, people have debated whether freedom of the press applies to blogs.

According to The Criminal Justice Program at Lincoln University, "The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, says that ‘Congress shall make no law....abridging (limiting) the freedom of speech, or of the press…’ Freedom of speech is the liberty to speak openly without fear of government restraint. It is closely linked to freedom of the press because this freedom includes both the right to speak and the right to be heard. In the United States, both the freedom of speech and freedom of press are commonly called freedom of expression.

The First Amendment's protection of speech and expression is central to the concept of American democracy. The core purpose of the freedom of speech is self-governance: enabling people to obtain information from a diversity of sources, make decisions, and communicate those decisions to the government. Beyond the political purpose of free speech, the First Amendment provides American people with a ‘marketplace of ideas.’ Rather than having the government establish and dictate the truth, freedom of speech enables the truth to emerge from diverse opinions."

In other words, the amendment is designed to protect the free flow of thoughts, ideas, and information. Surely, this has to apply to the digital flow as well as the printed flow. Critics argue, freedom of the press doesn’t apply to blogs because bloggers aren’t professional journalists.

I’d remind such critics, Physician John Locke’s “Two Treaties of Government” outlined, for the first time, the natural rights of man, which laid the ground work for the American revolution eighty-some years later. Thomas Paine, failed tobacconist turned journalist, wrote “Common Sense,” an independently published pamphlet calling for revolution. New York farmer, J. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur, wrote a series of “letters” to the inhabitants of Europe, describing American life and defining American ideals.

What is a blog, if not a letter to a mass audience? If I print the blog and distribute copies, isn’t that a pamphlet? It’s not hard at all to imagine that if computers had existed back then, that such works would have been blogs. Paine, Locke, and Crèvecœur were the bloggers of their day. These were thinkers writing works which challenged standard schools of thought. Unfortunately, Paine and Locke were forced to write their works anonymously to keep from being arrested. It was exactly these kinds of writers which the freedom of the press was designed to protect.

Of course, there were no computers back then, the abacus aside, nor could they have possibly conceived of, what amounts to, a printing press in every home. However, they also had no vision of TV or radio news, both of which are considered legitimate sources of journalism.

The best argument against bloggers being considered as members of the press is that a blogger can write anything regardless of the facts. I agree, there’s a heap of misinformation out there posing as fact. Bloggers, if they are to be taken seriously, must adhere to standards by refraining from committing liable and spreading unsubstantiated rumor as fact. However, one only needs to watch Fox News to see that a willingness to skew the truth, in itself, does not disqualify a source from being a member of the press.

The difference between Glen Beck and most bloggers is the fact that most bloggers don’t have a corporation to answer to. I submit, it was independent sources of news, commentary, and ideas which the founding fathers most intended to protect with the first amendment. Thus, they must be considered as members of the press. It's just common sense.


  1. Wow James, I never though of myself as a member of the press, but I can see the point your making. I totally need a hat with a card labeled press to stick in the brim.

  2. You're definitely doing your part.

  3. I really liked this blog, I had never thought of blogging as journalism, I want that hat with a card labeled press, too! ;)

  4. I agree, the fedora with the press card in the hat band would make a great accessory for a blogger. :-)