The courts have a great deal of respect for journalists. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution specifically singles out “freedom of the press” as a right distinct from, although related to, “freedom of speech.” But, the public has a very low opinion of the media generally, and court decisions, over time tend to follow public opinion, according to a newly released Yale University study on public opinion about free speech. Colorado Confidential is deeply awash in, and indeed a product of, the forces that drive this disparity.According to the study:
Across the board, respondents were far less protective of media rights than individual rights. Even in response to abstract survey questions, the public supported freedom of the “press” less than freedom of “speech.” . . . The public supported what the authors call “routine journalism” even less [than sexually offensive or graphically violent publications], although relatively well-educated groups were most supportive. The routine journalism category included controversial journalistic practices, such as reporting the sexual practices of public figures and reporting classified material, as well as errors inherent in journalism, such as reporting inaccurate information believed to be true. The public did not support journalistic “identification” practices, such as identifying rape victims and juveniles charged with crimes. . . . the public has far less sympathy for the free speech claims of media companies [than the U.S. Supreme Court].
The bottom line is that if an online speech case does get in front of a jury, the public may be much more responsive to the frame that the speech comes from a private individual who happens to have a blog, engaged in “freedom of speech,” than it will be to the frame that the individual is a “citizen-journalist.”
Colorado Confidential is a new beast. It is part blog, and part online magazine. Our serious journalistic ethical standards, like a commitment to having well sourced and newsworthy stories, draws us towards journalist status. Our commitment to critically examining the traditional media, however, may, in its own little way, contribute to public distrust for the media generally, as opposed to having the desired effect of making the media as a whole more disciplined in its reporting, by pointing out specific instances where it fails to live up to its own aspirations.
As we, the people who make Colorado Confidential what it is, and the blogosphere generally, consider what we want to be, we may want to be careful what we wish for, with an eye firmly fixed on how public opinion’s low level of respect for journalism may influence the law in the years to come.
Of course, it is just as possible that institutions like Colorado Confidential are just the tonic that the news world needs. Many of the same observers who have noted increasing skepticism of journalists have linked this to a perception that those journalists are largely serving a profit motive that drives big media companies, rather than a more pure interest in ferreting out the truth.
According to the study:
There are several possible reasons for this skepticism. . . the public may believe that large media companies disserve society’s interest in democratic discourse, or are more interested in drawing large audiences than in informing citizens. . . the public may have less respect for speech motivated by corporate profits than political commitment . . . the public may not regard media corporations as persons who deserve the same First Amendment rights as individuals . . . the public may be concerned that media companies serve their advertisers and/or powerful interests, rather than the public interest . . . the public may identify media speech claims with indecency and commercial advertising which media companies defend under the First Amendment . . . the public’s preference for individual free speech claims may simply reflect the public’s more general prejudice against big, powerful institutions. . . .
Colorado Confidential is not part of the corporate media. We don’t answer to advertisers or profits. Our commitment is to covering stories about Colorado that are under reported or misunderstood. Our reporting, and the competition it provides to traditional journalism to meet our standards, may be just what the journalism as a whole needs to regain the faith of the American public.