The enormous changes that advancing technology have thrust upon the news media is probably one of the biggest stories of the digital era. But what may have gone less noticed is the impact that those changes have had on the ability of news organizations to champion First Amendment rights. As a recent Knight Foundation poll of leading newsroom editors revealed, with fewer resources at their disposal, today’s editors are less likely to go to court to fight battles over freedom of access.
The First Amendment is, however, getting a new champion: The First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, a $60-million initiative, that seeks to advance First Amendment rights through research, education, and litigation.
In recent years there has been growing concern that the First Amendment is losing its main champion, a news industry that is today often crippled by financial challenges. The industry now lacks resources that it enjoyed before the Internet era. Yet, at the same time, thorny new First Amendments issues – created in an era of Wikileaks and Edward Snowden revelations – are constantly being raised. These involve questions that judges couldn’t possibly have foreseen in First Amendment rulings involving cases such as the Pentagon Papers.