First Amendment Essay

My name is Leila Fletcher, and I’m a 14-year-old staff writer at Simpson Street Free Press (SSFP). I began working at the Free Press in 2013. I have always enjoyed writing and, since I started working at SSFP, my passion for journalism and reporting has soared. My new journalistic knowledge has also helped raise my interest in and awareness of social issues in my community. As a young journalist, I believe that freedom of the press is not just important—but crucial—for American citizens’ knowledge of the world around them.

In 1791, the First Amendment was added to the Bill of Rights. It reads: “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.” Even more relevant today, this amendment and its principles are of the utmost importance to my generation.

Despite the importance of maintaining a free press, the general indifference of my generation challenges our First Amendment rights. Most teenagers I have encountered are more interested in the latest song on the radio, the newest episode of their favorite show, or their friends’ latest posts on social media than the local or national news. Many high schoolers spend the majority of their time at school and do not want to use the little free time they have pumping more facts into their brains. The small amount of news most teens do come across is usually on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Because of their apparent lack of interest in the news—in addition to news sources competing with entertainment sources—fewer teens today will likely be inspired to become journalists.

The apathetic attitude presented by many people my age may also increase the problems facing newspapers today. If people do not seek information from a newspaper, it will not be circulated. Without circulation, coupled with the loss of money typically generated by advertisers, a newspaper agency will lose income. Consequently, the agency will be unable to pay its employees, thus leading to the ultimate demise of the publication.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump presents another looming threat to our country's free press. Trump stated that if he becomes president, he will repeal libel laws. Further, if and when anything is published that he does not like, he plans to sue the reporting journalist and publisher to “win lots of money.” Such statements attack the First Amendment by endangering both the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press.

If the United States did not allow the freedom of the press, society would not be able to access legitimate information about current, global issues. Presently, journalists are able to report about nearly everything, from the latest political rally to the Super Bowl. Moreover, journalists can write for a large agency, such as The New York Times or The Chicago Tribune, or they can free-lance and write pieces entirely of their own choosing.

As news consumers, the American public can access information on a wide variety of subjects that is expressed by journalists with varying opinions. These differences in perspective collectively enrich our own points of view. Trump's threat to control the press would result in the proliferation of one-sided, biased news.

To maintain a free press, young people must get involved in reading, talking about, and responding to what they learn in the news. Long-standing journalistic values must be and can be upheld by my generation. Adolescents need to feel motivated to analyze events critically and become interested in reporting.

One way to spark young peoples’ enthusiasm in journalism is to support programs like Simpson Street Free Press. Here, students gain practical, hands-on experience conducting research, writing articles, and functioning in a professional newsroom environment.

Due to my work at the Free Press, I now realize how vital journalism and the freedom of the press are to our democracy. The First Amendment is even more important today as the press fights to keep the public interested in current events. The dwindling of the press’ influence over the general public would certainly narrow Americans' way of viewing the world. However, stimulating my generation's interest in journalism can restore the strength of the press. I want to continue to live—and raise my future children—in a community that is educated and aware of its place in the world, in a community shaped by the values propagated in the First Amendment.

Great work on this piece, Leila! It was a joy to watch you develop this story over the past couple of months. Fantastic job! – MckennaMadison, WI (2016-05-07 12:37)
Mature reasoning and writing on this, Leila. The Fourth Estate is a little less wobbly with people like you in it, and behind it. And mind you, it's a vicious circle. With consolidation of media increasingly owned by remote for-profit entities, content is impoverished and reader interest naturally diminishes. Keep that light beam of yours on high! – Marnie SchulenburgMadison (2016-05-29 11:11)