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First Amendment Expert Wants to Know What You Think: Journalists Join Las Vegans to Discuss the News Media

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Nerissa Young, SPJ Project Watchdog Chairwoman, 304-876-5209, or
Irwin Gratz, SPJ national president, 207-874-6570 or

INDIANAPOLIS—A national First Amendment expert wants to know what Las Vegans want from their news media. And he’s coming to take notes.

Gene Policinski, executive director of the First Amendment Center in Nashville, Tenn., will sit down with Las Vegans at a town meeting Oct. 18 to listen to their concerns while he is attending the Society of Professional Journalists Convention and National Journalism Conference.

“It’s an absolute necessity for the health of the First Amendment as well as a free press,” Policinski said of the program titled “The news media: Watchdog or rabid dog?”

The discussion is free and open to the public. It is scheduled from 2:30-4:30 p.m. at the Paradise Community Center. The address is 4775 McLeod Drive, in Las Vegas.

The program is presented in cooperation with SPJ’s Project Watchdog, which is a national initiative to engage the public in a dialogue about the role of free and ethical news media in a democracy.

About 1,000 journalists from around the country are meeting beginning this weekend at the Aladdin Resort and Casino. The conference runs from Oct. 16-18.

Policinski brings 27 years of experience in daily journalism to the discussion. He began his career in 1969 as a reporter in Greenfield and Marion, Ind. He covered Congress as a Gannett News Service bureau reporter before being named Washington editor of USA Today. He was a founding editor of USA Today Baseball Weekly and a host on USA Today Sky Radio. Policinski is executive producer and host of “Speaking Freely” on public television.

He said terrorism, the war in Iraq, news sources and content will be fair game. “The First Amendment and a free press are being challenged and questioned more at this time than any during my lifetime. It’s a real flashpoint for American journalists today.”

SPJ president Irwin Gratz said, “We’ve gotta talk. There’s a serious disconnect between the jobs journalists think they’re doing and what ordinary folks accuse us of doing.

“If we’re going to expect more support for our efforts, we need to explain to people why they should support us, and journalists have to listen to how people perceive news coverage,” said Gratz, who is a producer for Maine Public Broadcasting Network.

The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. SPJ is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, and based in Indianapolis, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed public, works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists, and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.


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