August 06, 2010

Journalism school plans ‘Liberty Tree Initiative’

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A conference at Southern Illinois University Carbondale next year will look at the First Amendment and issues of “accountability, privacy, anonymity and free expression in a Twitter age.”

The University’s School of Journalism is the recipient of a grant from the McCormick Foundation to further First Amendment education on college campuses. The $5,000 grant is one of six the organization is awarding to universities as part of its “1 for All” campaign, which organizers say is designed to “raise awareness of the First Amendment and the fundamental freedom it protects.” The campaign’s campus program, the “Liberty Tree Initiative”, brings “thought-provoking First Amendment programs and speakers to university campuses nationwide,” according to organizers.

“Freedom of speech is at the core of the mission of the School of Journalism,” Director William H. Freivogel said. “The Liberty Tree Initiative will call attention to some of the difficult issues surrounding free speech in the Twitter age -- issues like nasty anonymous postings on websites.”

The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute and St. Louis Journalism Review will also participate in the effort. In its application, Freivogel notes the importance of the award-winning Daily Egyptian, the University’s student-operated newspaper, and the St. Louis Journalism Review, a recent addition to the journalism school.

SIUC is proposing four elements in its program, Freivogel said. He anticipates the conference will be in late February or early March.

  • A conference next spring will look at the effectiveness of accountability tools, including media critics, news councils, ombudsmen, ethics codes, and journalism reviews. A special emphasis will be on the “anonymous speech of Internet posters and the tension such postings often create between privacy and free expression.” Freivogel said the conference will utilize an interdisciplinary approach and look at the topic through legal, ethical and political lenses. He anticipates the conference will feature local, regional and national experts.
  • Students in the School of Journalism and elsewhere on campus will be able to write an essay, create a picture story, or produce a video on a conference topic or another First Amendment topic. Freivogel said area high school students could also participate, if feasible.
  • The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute will conduct a poll on First Amendment issues, Freivogel said. The questions that the institute will insert in its fall survey “will give us an idea of the attitudes of the citizens of Southern Illinois toward First Amendment freedoms,” he said.
  • The St. Louis Journalism Review will publish a story about the conference, “taking a critical look at the state of accountability for today’s new journalism,” Freivogel said.

In addition, the journalism school will plant a liberty tree

“The Liberty Tree Initiative is a remarkable partnership that taps into the energy of the First Amendment and the insights of experts, academic leaders, artists, musicians and journalists across this country,” said Ken Paulson, president of the First Amendment Center and Newseum, and one of the founders of “1 for All,” in a release announcing the awards.

Other universities to receive grants for the 2010-2011 academic year are Middle Tennessee State University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Georgia College and State University, Robert Morris University (Pa.), and the University of Tennessee.