One of the most interesting parts of my work each day at the Institute is compiling news stories from around the nation which highlight Bill of Rights protections. And we know you’re using them — our Daily News Stories page is one of the most heavily visited on our website. What better way to evidence the ongoing importance of our rights and liberties than to examine current events? Teaching with news also helps students learn about and appreciate our free press. The First Amendment, James Madison said, protected the ”right of freely examining public characters and measures, and of free communication among the people thereon, which has ever been justly deemed the only effectual guardian of every other right.”

I do not believe that Madison’s characterization of a free press has changed since the 18th Century. But the way we get our news certainly has.

Where news used to take weeks and months to reach people around the colonies, we now get our news instantaneously. Newspapers used to

publish once (perhaps twice) a day. The people had time to not only read news but digest it; not only to hear soundbytes but to read about ideas and events in context.

Now websites must load fresh content hour by hour or risk becoming stale. Google rankings are influenced in part by how often a website’s content is updated. Is a headline about the same story ever atop a major news site for more than a few hours, much less days or weeks? But what if the story is that important? What if it should still be there, occupying the minds of informed, engaged citizens? As a result of this accelerated news cycle, perhaps, the time citizens used to spend deliberating and discussing the news of the day has similarly diminished.

Can you imagine the Massachusetts Committee of Correspondence blazing with FiOS? What if Benjamin Franklin had needed to fill the Gazette with fresh headlines no less than five  times/day? If the Boston Massacre had occurred in the era of 24 hour news, would anyone have cared two weeks later? Would the American Revolution have been hastened, or might it never have happened at all?

No one, I hope, would argue with James Madison that it is a responsibility of citizenship to be informed about issues in your community, state, and country. How is the production and consumption of news changing this responsibility of citizenship? Put another way, what does responsible consumption and discussion of current issues look like in 2011?

Posted in Staff Updates

One Response to “The Founders blazing with FiOS?”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Gordon Belt. Gordon Belt said: RT @BRInstitute: The Founders blazing with Fios? What would the Founders think of our current news cycle? [...]

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