Commentary: Dr. Larry Burriss ‘Individual Voices’



     Editor’s Note: Our guests on Smyrna Issues were Professor Dr. Larry Burriss who teachers media law and Free Expression (First Amendment) at MTSU and Chairman Jeremy Faison with the Tennessee General Assembly. Our topic was the First Amendment, mainstream media and false narratives, biased reporting (Fake News), and the importance of objective journalism. Listen to the Smyrna Issues Podcast:


   Media critic A.J. Liebling once said, “Freedom of the press belongs to those who own one.” And more modern media cynics have liked to tell us only the rich and famous, or rich and powerful, can get their message out to the public.

   Well, that may have been the case a few years ago, but thanks to modern technology, anyone with something to say now has a soapbox undreamed of by the founding fathers.


     Back when the republic was getting started, anyone with an opinion could get themselves heard. The soapbox was very real, and almost anyone with something to say could find a sympathetic printer to produce a few broadsheets to stick up on the tavern wall, or a few pamphlets to distribute on the street corner
     But then something happened; something called “mass media.” Media became a big business, and for years the little guy was effectively shut out, and, in a manner of speaking, silenced.
 Then, in the mid-60s, people began to realize they could manipulate the media and get their message out to the public.
     But they were still at the mercy of media gatekeepers who could decide whether or not a story, or idea, deserved attention.
     Modern technology has changed all that, and the media are, in many ways, becoming less mass, and more individual.
     Once the proliferation of voices began to make themselves heard, however, an interesting reaction set in companies, and individuals, began to exert control over those voices and began to make strident efforts to shut them out.

     Both the right and the left have made deliberate efforts to control the messages coming from the myriad of soapboxes now available.
     And it’s not just the messages, efforts have been underway for some time now to shut down the delivery systems themselves. The equivalent of tearing broad sheets down from the tavern walls in the 16- and 17-hundreds.
     It seems the more freedom people with something to say have exercised, the more others have tried to shut them down.
     Rather than listening and speaking, too many people seem to want to foreclose the debate at the source, which to my mind is the height of arrogance: your point of view has no validity, so we’re not going to debate it at all.  I’m right and you’re wrong, and that’s all we need to know.
     Somehow I never thought that’s what free speech is all about.
     I’m Larry Burriss

Larry Burriss, a professor in Middle Tennessee State University’s College of Mass Communication and president of the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame, welcomes the crowd before the induction ceremonies at the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters conference in Murfreesboro for the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame.