1st Amendment Doesn’t Apply to the Newsroom

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September 23, 2011 by bowmanaj

You have the right to free speech. Your employer also has the right to fire you if you use your first amendment right. since the first amendment specifically stops government from making laws abridging free speech.

“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.”

Yet, the private sector can prohibit employees from talking. It is going on right now in the NBA. Haven’t heard about it? Well besides the Eastern Shore Promotion Network (ESPN) being a terrible monopoly and not reporting on it, the NBA has a clause that prevents both sides of the bargaining table from talking.

Having a work place that prevents speech seems unethical, but what about an employer whose job it is to protect and promote freedom of speech.

Well, that just happen to me. I am an essayist for the Miami Student, which means my articles are based in opinion with facts thrown in. Why I am not called a “columnist” I do not know.

Last week I wrote an article about how the smoking ban isn’t enforced on campus. It was not published, but after communicating with multiple editors it was discovered that it was supposed to be online, but not in the paper due to lack of space (there is another side story to this article but it is another blog post for another day). After a series of email conversations the story was published online.

A woman, specifically a student at the Hamilton Campus and after a Google search can be described as having spent way to much time on the internet, commented on the article. She brought up several points, all of which were valid.

I responded to the comment. It was my honest opinion that in her summation she made some mistakes and took away the wrong message from the article. I brought that up and tried to explain to her there were over arching points she missed.

Today the “editors” emailed me and said my article would be published Friday in the paper. Also, they noted that I was to refrain from commenting on my own stories from now on.

In no way did I condemn this woman’s comment. Look for yourself! In fact, I thanked her for the insight and alternative thinking. I could have been a real jerk, but I didn’t for a change.

Yet, I am forever barred from commenting on another story. Even if it is part of a thoughtful discussion that is critical and imperative for the advancement of knowledge. I know that it is the norm for journalists not to comment on their pieces. But what is the difference between a comment and a follow up on a story? Besides, this was not intended to be a strictly unbiased piece. This was an opinion piece, as in MY opinion, which means it was imperative that people understood exactly where I stood on an issue.

But why is it the norm for writers not to comment on their pieces on the web? Isn’t that part of the point of comments? After all, comments allow interaction with readers and an opportunity to clarify. News organizations have an obligation to inform and correct the readers if information is improperly received.

It is obvious a writer must never do anything to degrade a reader, but what is wrong in engaging in thoughtful discussion?

And it should be clear is was never explained to me by the editors that I was banned from commenting on my own posts.

You can have the first amendment, just not at work.


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