First Amendment lawyer Robert A. Bertsche told an audience of student journalists on Saturday, March 1, 2008, that their role is more important than ever in preserving First Amendment values into the next generation. He was one of three keynote speakers at the Second Annual Student Journalism Conference at Tufts University, a private institution whose president has recently committed the school to abide by the same First Amendment principles that restrict public institutions.
Bertsche told students their challenge is to fight against three trends that make the job of a journalist particularly difficult: public skepticism about the media’s motives and conduct, political and economic insecurity that has created an environment in which the public “right to know” has been subordinated to other social goals, and media convergence that has muddied and complicated the role of a journalist.
Bertsche’s talk was entitled The New Threats to Freedom of the College Press. He regretted not only those surveys showing that many undergraduates would not support the First Amendment if it came to a vote today, but also what he called a “new paternalism” by many college administrators seeking to channel student expression.
A partner at Prince Lobel Tye LLP, Bertsche was joined at the conference by Connie Hale of Harvard University’s Nieman Program on Narrative Journalism and author of Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose, and by Phil Primack, a journalist, editor, and policy analyst who is a contributing writer and a senior fellow at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service.
The conference, organized by the student-led Media Advisory Board at Tufts, comes six months after university President Lawrence S. Bacow issued a statement expressing his commitment to govern Tufts as if the First Amendment restricted the university to the same extent as it does public institutions of higher education. Universities are places where people should have the right to freely express opinions, no matter how offensive, stupid, wrong-headed, ill-considered, or unpopular,” he said in August 2007. “To say that people have the right to express such views does not mean that we condone them or that they should go unchallenged. Rather, it means that the responsibility to respond is shared collectively by all members of the community and not vested in the action of any administrative body.”