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Free Press Club opens the minds of South students

By Tessa Ruben and Drew Pinta
Published: April 2009

Here at South, posters lining every hallway advertise bake sales to raise money for aid in Darfur or to invite students to anti-war protests, and each month classes flock to the lecture hall to learn about the child sex trade or presidential candidates. While we consider all of these to be worthy causes, we at the Free Press Club believe that ours is the most important (not really¦but sorta). Here’s why: the response to every issue, whether it is the new ice cream in the cafeteria vending machines or the threat of global warming, is directly influenced by its coverage in the media. One example of this on a large scale is the parallel many draw between the media coverage of the Vietnam War and the public’s response to it. When the big TV stations began to show gory battle scenes and devastation in Vietnam, the nation saw a far-away fight up close for the first time. The generation that watched those clips and saw those pictures is known for its voiced opposition of the war. The media, many say, changed America’s mind. If that’s true, then what roles has the media played in the public’s response to current wars? How has it influenced our ideas about other issues?

A student body as like-minded as our own (before the presidential election, my history class took a mock vote – not one hand went up for McCain) raises questions as to why most of us ended up with some a similar set of opinions. Of course, we’re influenced by our parents and our peers, but the news sources we see most commonly and the places we choose to get our news from sway our opinions as well. South students who flip through the paper most likely read the Boston Globe or the New York Times – both liberally biased in comparison to many other popular papers around the country, and both owned by the same company. Once formed, many of our opinions are rarely subject to change. My parents, both liberals, refused to sit down for more than thirty seconds to watch Bush speak during his entire presidency, but they can practically recite Obama’s speeches by heart. I won’t be part of a conversation in which people claim Coldstone is better than JP Licks, but if someone wants to discuss their favorite JP Licks flavor, I can talk all day. I’m not suggesting that my parents support Bush or that I buy my ice cream from Coldstone, but we would both be able to argue our sides more effectively if we would listen to a different opinion.

Once we begin to check the sources of our news, it’s important to know the sources of the sources – where the news comes from. We often learn about foreign countries in which dictators take over the press, like Hitler did in World War II. Although we doubt that there’s a fascist ruler trying to hijack our TV stations and newspapers, the American press today is facing a serious threat to real freedom: money. Money has huge pull over of the stories that run in nearly every popular news source in the United States, as a majority of the most readily available newspapers, TV and radio stations are owned by about six mega corporations (News Corp., Viacom, Walt Disney, and more). Because these corporations are driven by money, they’ve been dropping one of the biggest expenses for newspaper and shows – investigative journalism – and trading it in for cheaper, fluffier stories. Without investigative journalism, the media is losing its role as the “fourth check on the power of the government. Not only this, but big corporations are squeezing smaller, independently run newspapers and broadcasting companies out of the business and the airwaves, which only decreases the already small percentage of all the ideas and opinions in the world that we see.

That’s why it’s now our job to keep our press safe, so that we can all get the straight facts and a variety of opinions on every subject. There’s a long list of actions we can take to improve laws and standards for the media, and our club’s members are extremely dedicated, but even we have found it difficult to free the press in the course of school year. So we’re starting at South.

Whether or not most South students share the same opinions, if we all pay attention to where those stances come from, where we get our news, and learn all sides of an issue before we fight for it, we’re already on our way toward a free press! And if more people join our club (Room 1304, Wednesday J-Block), then we’re even further!

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