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Bruce D. Brown: 2012 First Amendment Awards Dinner Remarks

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  1. Freedom of the Press Awards
I am very excited to be here in this new job after 15 incredible years at Baker Hostetler learning the…

I am very excited to be here in this new job after 15 incredible years at Baker Hostetler learning the ropes of media law from Bruce Sanford who co-chaired this dinner five years ago with Bo Jones – who is also here tonight.  So there is a lot of continuity in this room and we are very fortunate to be adding John Fahey and Katharine Weymouth to this special circle of supporters.

As a young journalist and later as a lawyer, I was always impressed by the work of the Reporters Committee and its tradition of excellence and advocacy under the stewardship most recently of Lucy Dalglish.  It is a special and unique organization.

I spent two years as a research assistant to David Broder at The Washington Post before I went to law school, and afterward, I covered the federal courts for Legal Times.

I remember one day when I was opening David’s mail, a package from Germany caught my eye.  While it wasn’t my job to snoop through his correspondence – only to open it – inside this package was an amazing photograph of the Berlin Wall taken from inside what was then East Germany.

On the wall, in between the chunks of rubble at its base and the barbed wire at its top, a graffiti artist had spray-painted six words:  “The Washington Post makes freedom possible.”  Someone had snapped a picture and wanted to share it with David.

I never saw that photograph again . . . and given what David’s office used to look like, I wonder if he ever saw it at all!  But the image has stayed with me all these years.  It’s not often that you see a thank-you note from a people to a profession.

In 1989, the names of any of the news organizations in this room tonight might have appeared there on the Berlin Wall.  But in 2012, we’d certainly expect to see spray-painted alongside them the names of the search, social media, and technology companies who play a major role in making journalism available to the public today.

They, too, make freedom possible, and the Reporters Committee is committed to being a place where all of us can come together to advance the shared purpose of a free press and a Constitution that protects new tools of communication.

In addition to more engagement with the media technology world, look for the Reporters Committee to pursue an expanded FOIA and access agenda to help all of you keep the public informed.

As we move further into an era where reporters replace their notebooks with smartphones, and readers consume journalism on a range of new platforms, we will encounter new challenges to the First Amendment and to transparency in government.

The Reporters Committee has already responded.  Following the launch of a new website last year, we have developed a mobile app and interactive online resources, such as the Federal FOIA Appeals Guide.  All of these initiatives have been made possible by the support of our foundation, corporate, and individual donors.

We don’t need to slip the word “digital” into our name to make our mission contemporary.  The people who founded this organization over forty years ago, one of whom we honor tonight, named it with three strong and enduring nouns:  Reporters … Freedom … Press.

Even a world which one day may have an “Algorithm News Editors Association” – trust me, it’s coming – will still need a Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

One wall fell in 1989 but governments today are putting up others of all types, in some cases more virtual than physical but just as threatening to a free press.  Thanks to the generosity and support of John Fahey, Katharine Weymouth, and everyone here tonight, the Reporters Committee will continue to do our part to make freedom possible.