The Vindicator – your daily First Amendment routine


R. Douglas King might be a great person for Youngstown school kids.

But his resume is certainly not, and it is not worth the estimated $56,000 that the Youngstown Board of Education agreed to potentially pay him for his services.

That’s the conclusion a good number of people have come to, including within the embattled school district itself.

What I’d like to outline for a moment is not this issue specifically, but that we know of this issue at all.

The story appeared in The Vindicator last Sunday (and can be found easily by a Google search of King’s name and Vindy.com.)

It was the result of great reporting, persistent questions and no backing down from veteran reporter Denise Dick.

I like that readers, while expressing concern for the district’s actions, also spent time recognizing the work and the diligence of Denise and The Vindicator. Some said:

“I just read the article. I’m speechless. This needed action and it started with The Vindicator. Great job.”

“What a waste of taxpayer money. Thank you Denise Dick and The Vindicator for exposing this shameful hiring.”

“You did do a great job Vindy, as usual. Thank you for providing us with this very important information. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. ... I was still reeling from the other great article about Ms. Kimble’s questionable appointment to the academic distress commission.”

“Now this is why the media is important, to act as a watchdog for citizens against government, business, and special interests.”

“Great job Vindy.”

“Hats off to Denise Dick for once again bringing to light the incompetence and stupidity of the city school board. Well done!”

The validation of Denise’s work came at an intriguing time. The work of the media was under a microscope that week via events at the University of Missouri.

On that campus, students launched a significant protest over racial challenges on campus. One student went on a hunger strike. The storm peaked when the African-American football players announced they would no longer play as long as the president stayed in office. Their stand was supported by their coach.

The president resigned two days later.

It was campus protest energy not seen in decades: A very public rally of expression and exercise of free speech that brought down a university president.

It’s the kind of opportunity and freedom that raises us above most of the world’s populations and makes us essentially a singular global beacon.

You could argue that the power and freedom are such that they also make us a singular target from countries and causes that fear such citizen opportunities we tout.

In the ensuing campus activity after the president’s resignation, the newly empowered protesters became their own test in free speech and First Amendment rights. They learned quickly the weight that comes with achievement.

The protesters – a mix of white, black, students, staff and community – had railed against media activities all during their multi-day protest. That’s because Facebook and Twitter and Wordpress make us all journalists, right?

It came to a visible head that Monday when the protesters bullied media out of a self-created protester “safe place” within the public campus. The bullying became an immediate subplot to the overall chaos.

Two Missouri staffers were disciplined for their role in the bullying. The student protest organizing group issued this memo to its followers: “1. Media has a 1st Amendment right to occupy [our protest space]. 2. The media is important to tell our story and experiences at Mizzou to the world.”

The ability to express opinions and to challenge public leaders is what sustains America. It’s what allowed the Missouri protests to happen in the first place.

True that most Americans, day in and day out, don’t partake enough in First Amendment rights. We also don’t always utilize algebra and verb conjugation even though we earned that, too.

But every American, day in and day out, does benefit from First Amendment rights even if they never stage a protest, march on a street or carry a sign.

It’s called journalism.

Journalism annoys many people. Often because we misunderstand it, and sometimes because media can misappropriate it.

But journalism – and more overarching, our First Amendment rights – have rises that are more bright than the valleys and some of the darkness it can bring.

In significant ways, it can topple presidents of universities or countries.

In smaller ways, it can challenge school boards and their spending decisions.

Life with it is much better than life without.

It was refreshing to see some citizens speak out in support of Denise’s work.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. E mail him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on Vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.

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