Free Press? Not so easy

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TV Reporter holding CNN microphone
Jim Acosta, a White House correspondent for CNN just lost his hard pass for the White House, a turn against Press Freedom in America.

In an era when many assumptions about communication and information are being reconsidered, it is difficult to say exactly what journalists can or should be free from. A better question to ask might be, ‘How is the networked press — journalists, software engineers, algorithms, relational databases, social media platforms, and quantified audiences — creating separations and dependencies that enable a public right to hear, make some publics more likely than others, and move beyond an image of the public as whatever journalists assume it to be?’

-Mike Ananny


A simple hashtag. A simple concept … right?

Not so fast.

According to, Freedom of the Press is “the right to publish newspapers, magazines, and other printed matter without governmental restriction and subject only to the laws of libel, obscenity, sedition, etc.”

Take a step back.

In the age of social media, data scrubbing and networks, “press” and “freedom” are not the simple and idealistic prospects they once were; and to protect them, journalists have to be pragmatic in defining what exactly press freedom is, and what they are free from.

A blog posted to the Nieman Journalism Lab page in June discusses this in-depth — and with the continued threats to press freedom both in America and even more so abroad, these discussions are more important now than ever before.

Note from picture above: Jim Acosta lost his press credential for the White House Wednesday after a heated exchange with the President of the U.S. In this tweet, he is attempting to get back in to finish his reporting duties – this shows that #ineedpressfreedom is needed around the world — and here in America.


According to the blog post, which was written by USC Annenberg assistant professor Mike Ananny “instead of being seen as a holdover from a time that no longer exists, press freedom could be viewed as a powerful framework for arguing why and how the networked press could change.”

This, to me, means the freedom of the press is not a static philosophy that is decided by journalists and members of the media elite, but an evolving thought process, that needs to be tended and updated regularly.

Not only does it need to be melded to fit the technology of the day, however, but the cultural and societal nuances of each country and region.

This, to me, is an important note for the global journalism community. The Press Freedom of the First Amendment is a particular brand of freedom that has been cultivated and tested for nearly 200 years. It has been fine-tuned to the nuances of a Western society, and that Press Freedom cannot be cut and pasted into different regions around the world — without a bit of tending and customization.

“Instead of being seen as a holdover from a time that no longer exists, press freedom could be viewed as a powerful framework for arguing why and how the networked press could change,” Ananny said.

So press freedom, again, is not a set forth and decided doctrine in and of itself. The First Amendment is a helpful starting point, but it traps the field of communication studies in a narrow bind when trying to safeguard and replicate freedom of the press in various locations.

“The dominant, historical, professionalized image of press freedom — as whatever journalists say they need to be free from to pursue self-evident public interest — privileges an individual right to speak over a public right to hear. It confuses journalists’ freedom to publish with publics’ rights to hear what they need to hear in order to sustain themselves as publics—to realize the inextricably shared conditions under which they live, discover and debate their similarities and differences, devise solutions to predicaments, insulate themselves from harmful forces and nurture contrarian viewpoints, recognize the resources that hold them together, and reinvent themselves through means other than the rational, informational models of citizenship that dominate the traditional mythology of U.S. press freedom.”