Panelists discuss free speech, state of the news
By Anna Gaynor
A veteran journalist, faculty members, and the editor of Loyola’s student newspaper discussed the media, the First Amendment, and the state of the news during a March 21 panel discussion in the Damen Den.
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Titled “The Role of Free Speech and Free Press in a Democratic Society,” the discussion was moderated by Michael Limón from the School of Communication. The topics covered were as broad as the panelists’ backgrounds—including social media, legal statutes, the media’s reputation, and technology such as smart phones.
“These little devices have democratized what previously was a right of the elite, and now every one of you can be a publisher,” said Don Wycliff, distinguished journalist in residence at the School of Communication. “More than that, you can read, view, and listen to everybody else’s publications, whether they be brilliant and learned or nitwits. Democracy is always a two-edged sword. It’s the worst form of government, except all of the others that have been tried.”
The event is the first of three at Loyola promoting civil discourse on campus. Led by faculty, staff, and students, these forums are providing an opportunity for those from different disciplines to discuss and educate one another on the issues of the day. In addition to Wycliff, a former editor at The New York Times and Chicago Tribune, the panel included Alexander Tsesis, professor in the School of Law; Bastiaan Vanacker, program director of the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy; and Grace Runkel, editor-in-chief of The Loyola Phoenix, the University’s student newspaper.
Attendees asked the panel about challenges facing news outlets and the University’s policies on student free speech. Vanacker wanted to stress that it’s wrong to believe the First Amendment gives the press any special treatment or extra protection.
“This is not how courts have come to determine the First Amendment,” Vanacker said. “In fact, it’s pretty clear that the First Amendment belongs to all of us, not just to the press. However, we don’t all fit within the White House press room, so there have been certain privileges created for the press so they have access to those in power on our behalf.”
Runkel and student writers at The Phoenix have seen an increase in social media posts criticizing their articles and reporting, but she believes the newspaper remains an important tool for education—even for those outside the School of Communication.
“In fact, a lot of our writers right now aren’t journalism majors,” Runkel said. “I think that is such a crucial element to teaching news literacy, which is more important now than ever. The more people know about the editorial process and what goes on behind the scenes of a newspaper, I think the better they are at judging whether a source is credible or not.”