Kent’s U.S. Drive
Father's Day

Your Little First Amendment Machine

For the past two years, there has been a little badge at the bottom of the left sidebar on this blog. It’s cute – reminiscent of World War II posters – but the words, about liberty and blogs, are a critical reminder of our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.

I was inspired to post that badge linking to a bloggers’ legal guide at the Electronic Frontier Foundation two years ago after attending the first Blogher conference in California. At the end of an engaging day of new ideas and new friends where all 300 attendees were gathered in a large meeting room, New York University professor, Jay Rosen (who blogs at PressThink), joined in the wrap-up discussion. I don’t remember anything else he said, only this:

“Blogs are little First Amendment machines.”

“YESSSSS!" I thought. "Exactly!” It is what we have needed for as long as I can remember – a way for anyone, anywhere, any time to have his or her say where any- and everyone can read or hear it. And now we do.

So I posted Jay’s astute observation just below the little badge as a daily reminder to myself – and readers who notice it – that what we do here in the blogosphere isn’t all ego and recipes. Something important is happening that has the potential to change the relationship between the people and the press, and between people and government. In fact, it already has.

On Tuesday, Jay published a story on alternet.org (reprinted from Huffington Post) titled, “A Blog is a Little First Amendment Machine.” Due to blogs and the emerging two-way nature of the web, Jay explains, media is no longer a one-way street from producer to audience:

“As it moves toward the Web, journalism will have to adjust to these conditions, but a professionalized press is having trouble with the shift because it still thinks of the people on the other end as an audience - an image very deeply ingrained in professional practice.

“I'm going to tell you some stories that I think illustrate the disruptive effects that blogging has had, and the democratic potential it represents.”

One of those stories concerns Senator Trent Lott who, in December 2002, appeared to support the segregationist 1948 presidential campaign of Senator Strom Thurmond. America would have been better off, said Lott, if Thurmond had been elected. Mainstream media mostly ignored the story, but as Jay explains:

“It turned out that bloggers from the left as well as the right were puzzled and disgusted by Lott's comments, and they continued to discuss them. For three days the story was the talk of the blogosphere while the news cycle moved on to other things. But political reporters were reading the blogs, and by the fourth day they realized - This was news!

“The story of what Lott had said re-broke in the major press - five days after it happened - and he began apologizing for it while major political figures reacted. Ten days later he resigned as majority leader; his power was gone.

“Here's the part of the story I want you to focus on: the chances of a television producer from CBS or a style reporter from the Washington Post not knowing enough history to see any import in Trent Lott's comments were pretty high. But the chances of the interconnected blogosphere not knowing this background were zero.

“To this day professional journalists do not understand this fact, even though it was one of the things that helped sink Dan Rather when his badly flawed report on President Bush's National Guard service was attacked (and sunk) by bloggers and their readers.”

You may think that’s just a little blog you’re publishing – something about your town, or a book you read or the grandkids. But it is much more than that. So long as there are millions of us keeping watch over media, government, corporations and others who would seek to influence us, they become more accountable, our liberty is furthered and democracy is strengthened.

“The most famous words ever written about freedom of the press are in the U.S. Constitution: ‘Congress shall make no law...’ concludes Jay Rosen. “But the second most famous words come from the critic A.J. Liebling: ‘freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.’

“Well, freedom of the press still belongs to those who own one, and blogging means practically anyone can own one. That is the Number One reason why blogs - and this discussion - matter.

“With blogging, an awkward term, we designate a fairly beautiful thing: the extension to many more people of a free press franchise, the right to publish your thoughts to the world.
Wherever blogging spreads, the dramas of free expression follow. A blog, you see, is a little First Amendment machine.”

Jay includes four more stories about how democracy has and can be furthered through blogs and I urge you to read his important piece.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Frank Paynter shows how expert our pets are in manipulating us, in Searching for Veneta.]

Comments

Ronni, this post is breathtaking. In plain English, you trace the direct link between hands-on blogging and living out the "dreams" of liberty and democracy (for starters). In my attempts to describe TGB, I often grope for words or I ramble. This post helps me to explain that while I can find essays, tips, tools, news, and more on aging, TGB offers these "resources" in a context, from a point of view (and yes, with an attitude!). I feel invited to a party —life, in a complex world that I can impact even while it impacts me.

Ronni, how true! The links we create are hidden gems. Hidden until some one prospecting for informations goes a goggling and then dredges up our hand typed gems from some time ago.

It continually amazes me what traffic I generate from posts almost long since forgotten. Did I really write that?

We are all helping to weave this information web, one post, one blog at a time. Someday, one of these will be a tipping point for the story of the moment.

Keep on writing/sharing good stuff!

I seem to keep needing kicks in the pants to get back into the blogosphere. Your remarks today about Jay's piece are perhaps the swiftest kick yet. Mucho gracias!

Tom, you said it exactly right.

And, yes, Tamar, the party here at TGB is always better conversation than any stuffy cocktail party I've ever attended.

As Ronni and Jay put it so well, never underestimate the single birdsong in a forest.

Excuse me while I go warble some more *grin*.

I am going to keep a copy of this post by my computer. It is thrilling to recognize what can happening because we, the people, have a voice that is actually heard.

I've quoted Jay Rosen many times both on my blog and talking with those who think blogs have no value. Of late on newscasts of noteworthy events, I've heard the commentators mention that they're waiting to see what the bloggers say. Is that power or what? We have a right to free speech and should use it. Blogging will definitely have an effect on the upcoming Presidential election and that's good. Let's ask the candidates to give it a rest for a bit! I'm tired.

This is one of your most important posts. The links you provide are a must read for anyone who wants to understand the significance of blogs. I'll want to share these ideas with some of them. Your piece and these others are well worth sharing with those who cling to the sometimes uninformed, narrow perspective that generalize all blogs, at best, are little more than daily journals, lack veracity, or ignore journalistic standards in reporting when disclosing news.

I often have to explain to others that readers need to exercise common sense when selecting blogs or any web site they visit. We need to subject what we read and see to analysis and judgement as we, hopefully, have done in the past to all sources we've come to trust for news and information.

With the power goes responsibility, and that's where some bloggers fall down. Rumor posted as fact, failure to check facts, random stealing from publications and other bloggers.

These are things we all need to pay attention to. Just this morning I received an email with an outrageous and untrue statement garnered from a blog. Some bloggers leap with joy at finally finding a place to express their prejudices and some readers are too naive about accepting anything written down-- especially if it reinforces their own prejudices!

Still, I prefer a world in which the nuts write about their nuttiness instead of spreading it all over un face to face!

Wonderful post - again! Both yours and Jay's. Thanks.
I agree with the comments here, too, especially about power and responsibility. You bet, there are a bunch of wing nuts among the bloggers I (somethimes) find myself wading thru. But I believe that the percentage of bloggers writing fiction as fact is no more (and possibly much less) than the percentage of those in our current 'media', who must court the corporate dollar on so many levels.
If you want to know the truth of any issue you have to know your source, and even then you have to check up on the ones you trust now & then... follow links and google your little fingers off.
That's one of the reasons I love TGB. I've never found a factual error, and opinion is always labeled as such.
Thanks Ronni, such integrity (and perserverance) is rare.

"Drama of free expression..."

I think you just about summed it all up with those 4 words.

Thanks for the connection and the inspiration.
Somewhat related, in the 6/11/07 issue of Newsweek, Steven Levy bemoans how, because of blogs, control of personal interviews is moving out of the hands of journalists and back to individuals.

Great great post Ronni

I have a question. The little badge/quote. Can anyone post this on their own blog?

I love the image and combination and have quoted Jay's words to people I meet who still don't understand how important blogging can be.

Candace...

Anyone can post the badge. I don't remember where I found it - probably at the EFF site. You can also just right click on the image and select "save image as", then post it to your blog. Then add Jay's quote below the image if you wish.

The link from the badge to EFF is in the story above as is the link to Jay's blog from his name under the quote.

Hi Ronnie I,
I read Dr.Michael Savage blog every day.I think he is brilliant and I learn so much about current events.I also listen to him on the radio.He is so truthful about world events..I feel exactly the way he does.He speaks for me.Love Vera

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