Newspaper, free speech are alive and well

Newspaper, free speech are alive and well
This is supposed to be a humor column. But there is nothing funny about the First Amendment – except for the ridiculous-looking knickers and powdered wigs which the Founding Fathers had on when they drafted the Constitution.

I attended the 124th convention of the South Dakota Newspaper Association recently, and I learned about the provision in our legal code which permits me to write about whatever comes to my feeble mind each week.

Al Neuharth � the little German guy from Eureka, South Dakota, who founded USA Today � was there, too, to tell us about his Freedom Forum and how weekly newspapers would be around for another 50 years.

That means I can keep pounding out this stuff until I'm at least 134 years old!

Al himself went bellyup when he published a small sports publication in South Dakota a long time ago. Then he borrowed some money from his brother-in-law � the late Les Helgeland of Yankton � to go to Florida to start over.

And start over he did!

He eventually established USA Today, became head of the giant Gannet newspaper chain and, since retiring, he has devoted his life to freedom of the press.

Yes, he paid Les back; and he "sneaked" into town to pay last respects to Les privately when the latter died of a heart attack. He then left by plane in the middle of the night, and hardly anybody knew he had been there.

The press convention � for which I MC-ed the annual banquet a dozen or more times � was held in the Neuharth Media Center at The University of South Dakota. It's now a part of the New Armory at the U where I played basketball against the Coyotes 63 years ago.

Somebody "stole" a cowbell from a State fan, and a near-riot ensued. The game was interrupted; no one was arrested; and it became part of sports history which not many of us remember. (Al wasn't even at the school then.)

I wanted to see where the basketball floor was, but they've done such a good job establishing the Media Center that I gave up and toasted the memory with a beer.

Instead of being a humor column, this obviously has become a nostalgic one. Suffice to say, I went away from the meeting with a new feeling about press freedom, the First Amendment and the continuation of the print medium.

More than 60 years ago pundits were predicting the demise of newspapers as we know them. Today, not only are they alive and well, but they are just now getting a second wind.

Al Neuharth, a champion of free speech, told me so. And I believe him. After all, 137 newspapers in South Dakota is proof of the pudding.

So the journalism students can go on with their classes, and I better plan on writing a few more columns.

The 125th South Dakota Newspaper Association convention is coming up soon, and the 126th, 127th, 128th, ad infinitum!

� 2006 Robert F. Karolevitz

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