Honor society recognizes free speech week

Left to right: Journalism professor Paul Oren, VUPD Assistant Police Chief Chuck Garber and Valparaiso Police Department Public Information Officer Michael Grennes. The panel discussion on Tuesday focused on the first amendment right of freedom of the press.

University campuses are hubs of information where varying ideas, perspectives and backgrounds converge everyday both in classrooms and cafeterias. Many professors encourage students to speak freely and openly about their opinions and to contradict one another.

Students, professors and members of law enforcement were brought together on Monday to explain their varying perspectives regarding the first amendment and freedom of the press.

The third week of every October is national Free Speech Week. The Valparaiso University chapter of the National Communication Association’s honor society, Lambda Pi Eta, observed the week this year with a panel of invited speakers, joined by an audience of professors and students.

“The first amendment is why we’re here, it’s what makes the United States of America what it is... to me the first amendment is the greatest thing we have in this country,” said journalism professor Paul Oren.

Oren went on to say, however, that it’s easy to misinterpret what rights are granted from the amendment, and he frequently sees it misunderstood.

“I think a lot of times the first amendment gets misapplied,” said Oren. “You’ll see stuff in the news where people are claiming their first amendment rights have been violated when in fact that’s wrong.”

The panel was also comprised of Valparaiso Police Department Public Information Officer Michael Grennes, VUPD Assistant Police Chief Chuck Garber and Porter County Prosecutor Brian Gensel.

The three provided perspective from the other side of the police tape.

“It was important to have a discussion about how ethics work and to see it from the other perspective and to [learn] the importance of communicating,” said junior English and digital media major Maria Bruno.

The panelists discussed past experiences working with the media, namely when they felt a line had been crossed by a reporter.

Oren addressed the difficult ethical decisions reporters confront.

“You have to walk a line as a journalist in terms of what stories are worth covering,” said Oren.

The prevalence of social media compiled with the emergence of citizen journalism has shifted priorities of reporters.

Grennes argued that the rush to get a story out before other media outlets is hindering a journalist’s primary purpose and responsibility.

“We live in a 140 character world, 24/7 news cycle where it’s a race to get info out,” said Grennes.

He continued to say he had seen reporters ignore certain rules just to break a story first.

Ginsel outlined what information he is legally able to provide and what he would need to withhold during an investigation.

Garber seconded, adding that he and other law enforcement may not provide much detail initially after the crime or incident, due to information getting in the wrong hands.

“The stuff that I could give [the media], if it were to get out, could ruin the case,” said Garber.

Oren urged that maintaining genuine relationships with law enforcement and sources would prove beneficial for young reporters.

“You do have to be mindful of respecting people’s image, and I think it goes back to building relationships,” Bruno said. “As long as you have a relationship with people, you’re going to be thinking in a different scope and it’ll back you up far enough from your story that you’ll get enough perspective to think about whether the information you’re saying is [interesting] or absolutely necessary for the public to know.”

Garber seconded the notion, and suggested getting on a first name basis with the officers and other sources.

“Build relationships with the police officer ahead of time, get to know them in a different way,” said Garber. “Sit down and have coffee with them, talk to them.”

On a global scale, the United States ranks 46th of 180 on the 2014 Freedom Press Index, an annual nation-by-nation evaluation of press freedom conducted by Reporters Without Borders.

International graduate student Sarhang Sherwany previously worked as a reporter in Kurdistan, and said the freedom of press in the United States is more restricted.

But he said it was for good.

“They don’t have evidence, the majority of their stories are based on their [political affiliation],” said Sherwany. “People don’t believe the press [there].”

For more information visit freespeechweek.org.

Contact Rebecca Gesme at torch@valpo.edu.

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