With the Future of Journalism in Peril, Young People Must Stand up for Freedom

by Adaeze Okoli, age 17

During recent political unrest in Egypt, the Egyptian government attempted to suppress the uprisings by cutting off all access to the Internet and text messaging. For six months, Egyptians had been organizing demonstrations against their government. By January, the government was losing control over its citizens, and  revolution was imminent.

According to Wael Ghonim, Google’s Middle East and North Africa Marketing Manager, “if you want to liberate a society just give them the Internet.”
It is obvious the Egyptian government was aware of this, and wanted to maintain their control. Ghonim, one of the people behind this revolution, credits social networking sites and news networks for its success.

Social networking sites like Facebook enabled the people to freely express their opinions. As the political unrest spread, the Egyptian government could not effectively censor all its citizens. They would have had to shut down the Internet. This, they could not do. And so it was the news networks that told the story. It was journalists who helped a nation and its people hold a government accountable.   

This is the main purpose of journalism: hold governments accountable for their actions, and guard the rights of the people. When a government oversteps its boundaries and begins to infringe on the rights of citizens, the power of a free press comes into play.   

Because of its unique role, journalism is often called the “fourth branch of government.” Although our government has checks and balances, journalism serves as an additional and highly effective watchdog.   

This country’s founding fathers realized how important strong, opinionated journalism was to the success of a nation; they built the United States on the principles of free speech and free press. The freedoms contained in the Bill of Rights are central to American democracy.   

In the case of the Watergate scandal, these principles proved very important. Reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post authored a series of investigative reports that ran in major newspapers across the country. Their work led to numerous government investigations and the eventual resignation of President Richard Nixon. Even though Woodward and Bernstein encountered opposition, these journalists recognized the critical nature of their work. They continued to investigate, and they pursued the story.   

Imagine if our government had acted differently during the Watergate era. What would our country look like today if its government had assumed the power to prevent Woodward and Bernstein from publishing?   

At that critical crossroads in our history government leaders lied to the people. They tried to cover up corruption. They withheld information. They stonewalled and threatened the press. Two young journalists stood firm, did their job, exposed the corruption and told Americans the truth. History is thankful they did.   

It is now more important than ever for young people to take an active role in journalism and media. Journalism is undergoing a major transformation. We have a responsibility to hold our government accountable—just like 30-year-old Wael Ghonim did in Egypt. Young people can change the future of nations.   

Today, newspapers around the country are in financial trouble. Some people think journalism is dying. Let’s hope not, because without journalism the core freedoms we Americans enjoy will soon be in jeopardy. Our generation must learn to defend those freedoms using our pens and our keyboards.

Adaeze Okoli is a junior at Middleton High School and Senior Teen Editor for the Simpson Street Free Press.

I can not agree more to the following editorial. Journalism speaks and opens the door to many; this given article proves it so. Honestly, this editorial left me thinking, in a good way-- it is simply joy journalism does to you. (: Well done Adaeze. (: – Nancy GarduñoLaFollette High School (2011-03-01 19:34)
Very well put, Adaeze. Freedom of the press helps ensure that the government operates for the people, and journalists effectively create a dialogue between the government and the people it serves. I'm glad that you feel a responsibility to continue that dialogue - it's vitally important to our society.

Nice work! – Mandy KroningerMadison (2011-03-02 12:52)
Adaeze, you make some very good points in this editorial. I totally agree, hopefully we can keep journalism alive. – Annie ShaoMadison (2011-03-03 18:08)
You make some very cogent connections in your article. A free press really does have the power to inform, ignite and mobilize masses, as well as allowing citizens to make up their own minds when armed with knowledge of unfiltered fact. Thought-provoking article. – Aarushi AgniMadison (2011-03-03 21:08)
Adaeze, Thank you for this insightful column. A free media, and the rigorous debate it is intended to foster is central to political progress. The internet offers a new vehicle for this dialogue to advance--presenting new and expanding opportunities to engage people in their governments and political processes who are rarely engaged. Great work. – Andrea L GilmoreMadison, WI (2011-03-04 01:03)
Nice Adaeze, your editorial really had me thinking about the importance of journalism. Now I take even more pride in being a young writer. I especially like hearing about brave writers who understand what their job is. Because of our column people can understand what journalism is all about. – Taylor KilgoreMadison, WI (2011-03-31 19:03)
I really enjoyed reading this article. I completely agree with you that journalism plays a vital role in our society, and should be defended and upheld for future generations. Great article. It really gets you thinking about the importance of using our voices to speak out against the injustices. :) – Hailey AlfredMadison, WI (2011-07-13 08:26)
You should take one of these ONLY if you will go onto law sohcol as soon as you get your bachelors degree. Because both of these degrees are essentially useless for getting a job. – AyrtoneYou should take one of these ONLY if you will go onto law sohcol as soon as you get your bachelors degree. Because both of these degrees are essentially useless for getting a job. (2015-11-27 23:04)