“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
- First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, contained in the Bill of Rights, ratified December 15, 1791
The average American spends about eight hours a day with the print and electronic media – at home, at work, and traveling by car. This includes watching television, listening to radio, and reading the newspaper.
The central role of information in American society harks back to a fundamental belief held by the framers of the U.S. Constitution: that a well-informed people is the strongest guardian of its own liberties. The framers embodied that in the First Amendment to the Constitution, which provides in part that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.” Thus, the press plays a vital role as a guardian of U.S. democracy, functioning as a watchdog over government actions and calling attention to official misdeeds and violations of individual rights.
The U.S. media today is frequently known as the Fourth Estate, suggesting that the press shares equal stature with the three branches of government created by the Constitution (the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches).
U.S. media have come a long way since the first newspaper was published in Boston, Massachusetts in 1690. Within 50 years, magazines began appearing in several major American cities. The advent of commercial radio at the beginning of the 20th century ended print’s monopoly in America, giving nationwide and, later, global audiences unprecedented access to live audio programs. Television, an even more powerful medium, entered the scene shortly after World War II. Defying predictions of their decline, the other media have diversified to confront television’s dominant appeal. Satellite technology has allowed U.S. television networks (notably cable) to reach overseas audiences around the globe. Fueled by the advance of digital technology and the growing convergence of the computer, telephone and cable television, interactive media represent the principal trend at the beginning of the 21st century .
The print and electronic media in the United States offer many news and entertainment options, and are a pervasive element in American society. According to a recent survey by Mediamark Research, 98% of Americans have a television, 84% percent listen to radio regularly, and 79% percent are newspaper readers. Meanwhile, 45% of the American population has access to the Internet, while for certain demographic groups that percentage is close to 70%. That means that Americans have a vast array of information sources, none of them controlled by the government.
Economics plays a major role in shaping the information served up to the U.S. public in newspapers, on radio and television, and now on the Internet. While nonprofit and advocacy organizations have significant voices, most of the public’s primary sources of information — major urban newspapers, weekly news magazines, and the broadcast and cable networks — are in business to make money. Media and communications (with revenues of over $242 billion), are one of America’s largest business groups. In 2000, adult consumers of media information and amusement products spent over $675 a person. Advertisers spent an additional $215 billion to bring their products to the attention of the American public. The media are a great economic engine in American society, providing jobs for hundreds of thousands of technicians, writers, artists, performers, and intellectuals. It wields enormous influence as it shapes attitudes and beliefs.
(Abridged from U.S. State Department IIP publications and other U.S. government materials.)
The following useful links are provided for the user’s convenience. The inclusion of non-U.S. government sites should not be construed as endorsing the views contained therein.
Press Freedom Links
- The Committee to Protect Journalists is an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide by defending the rights of journalists to report the news without fear of reprisal.
- The Freedom Forum, based in Washington, is a nonpartisan foundation dedicated to free press, free speech and free spirit for all people. It funds the Newseum, an interactive museum on the history of the news media.
- Freedom House, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, works to advance the political and economic freedom worldwide. It issues an annual report on the state of press freedom.
- Human Rights Watch, an independent organization supported by private contributions, seeks to advance human rights worldwide. Its Web site has a special section devoted to press freedom.
- The International Center for Journalists promotes quality journalism worldwide, with a focus on training journalists to promote effective, independent news media.
- Internews is an international media development organization that seeks to empower people worldwide with information, the ability to connect, and the means to make their voices heard.
- The PEN American Center works to advance literature, to defend free expression, and to foster international literary fellowship.
- Reporters Without Borders defends journalists imprisoned or persecuted for doing their job and fights against censorship and laws that undermine press freedom.
- The World Press Freedom Committee, an umbrella organization for 45 journalistic groups, aims to create a global environment in which the news media can be free and independent.
- American Society of Newspaper Editors
Represents daily newspaper editors in the Americas.
- International Federation of Journalists
Represents around 500,000 members in more than 100 countries.
- Investigative Reporters and Editors
Represents investigative journalists.
- National Press Photographers Association
Serves print and television photojournalists.
- Online News Association
Serves online-media journalists.
- Organization of News Ombudsmen
International association of ombudsmen, or internal newsroom critics.
- Radio and Television News Directors Association
Membership group for electronic journalists worldwide.
- Society of Professional Journalists
The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. SPJ also promotes the free practice of journalism and high ethical standards of behavior. Encourages the free flow of information vital to a well-informed public, works to educate the next generation of journalists, and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.
- Society for News Design
Represents designers, graphic artists, illustrators, and other visual journalists.
Reporting and Editing
CyberJournalist.net is a resource site that focuses on how the Internet, convergence (see note), and new technologies are changing the media. The site offers tips, news, and commentary about online journalism, citizen’s media, digital storytelling, converged news operations, and using the Internet as a reporting tool.
Note: Convergence in the media refers to cross-platform reporting. For example: newspaper reporters file stories for the newspaper, the paper’s Web site, and even a TV or radio station owned by the newspaper.
- Journalism.net (Temporarily Down For Maintenance)
A full service site with dozens of useful links, developed by a Canadian reporter.
Resources, story background, and training for television and radio journalists.
- Project for Excellence in Journalism
U.S. non-profit organization has resources and research.
Most of these groups are membership organizations that offer training at regularly scheduled conferences and resources on their Web sites.
- Business: National Center for Business Reporting
- Conflict: Center for War, Peace, and the News Media
- Environment: International Federation of Environmental Journalists
- Investigative: International Consortium of Investigative Journalists
- Science: International Science Writers Association
- Sports: Associated Press Sports Editors
- American Press Institute
Training center for print journalists based in the United States. Site offers resources, including useful links at The Journalist’s Toolbox.
International journalism center for Latin America, based in Ecuador. (Site is in Spanish.)
- European Journalism Centre
Training institute based in The Netherlands, has background information on European media and resources.
- Independent Journalism Foundation
Supports free press in Eastern Europe with training at four regional centers.
- International Center for Journalists
Training center based in the United States also has links to worldwide training and fellowship opportunities on its International Journalists’ Network.
U.S. non-profit group offers journalism training around the world.
- Institute for the Advancement of Journalism
South African media training institute.
- Institute for War and Peace Reporting
Special reports by region from this London-based non-profit, in multiple languages.
- John S. Knight Fellowships
Offer one-year professional journalism fellowships for outstanding mid-career journalists at Stanford University.
- Poynter Institute
A school for journalists, based in the United States. Web site provides resources, story background information, and plenty of links.
Freedom of Expression
- Article 19
International non-profit group supports freedom of expression and the free flow of information as fundamental human rights.
- Freedom Forum
News outlet dealing primarily with U.S. First Amendment and Freedom of Information issues.
- Inter American Press Association
Supports free press in the Western Hemisphere.
- Journalists for Human Rights
Canadian-based nonprofit, focused on reporting in Africa.
- Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
A nonprofit organization dedicated to providing free legal assistance to journalists.
- Reporters Without Frontiers
International press freedom organization, based in Paris. Resources in English, French, and Spanish.
- World Press Freedom Committee
International umbrella group defends and promotes press freedom.
- Society of Professional Journalists
SPJ Code of Ethics.
Indianapolis, IN: Society of Professional Journalists, 1996.