C. P. Scott the famous editor of The Manchester Guardiansaid:
The newspaper is of necessity something of a monopoly and its first duty is to shun the temptations of a monopoly. Its primary office is the gathering of news. At the peril of its soul it must see that the supply is not tainted. Neither in what it gives nor in what it does not give, nor in the mode of presentation, must the unclouded face of the truth suffer wrong. Comment is free," says Scott, "but facts are sacred."
Unfortunately I have seldom experienced newspapers in that light. There was a period of 10 years when I did not read a newspaper regularly. Partly it was a reaction against a daily routine which had become oppressive. I was tired of being a prisoner to the Dominion or the Herald between 7 and 8 in the morning and I was tired of a house littered with old newspapers.
But I still had access to news and speculation about the events of the day. Some of it came from radio, some of it came from conversation, some of it came from television.
And then I began to tire of television news. I wondered how it could be that the news of the day always fitted into 30 minutes. Not matter what was happening locally or internationally it was always contained within half an hour. News served TV instead of TV revealing the news in its complexity and depth. On weekends nothing newsworthy seemed to happen except sport and a steady stream of short American network clips on the eccentricities of the English.
In the 60s and 70s television gave us memorable and powerful pictures ranging from a naked girl running along a road in Vietnam to President John Kennedy assassinated in Dallas. But if television gave us unforgettable pictures, it was the medium of radio which forced me to use my inner ear and eye. I had to listen and to think.
But this is a Conference about newspapers. Straightaway I want to assure you I read two daily newspapers though that is a habit which could change at any time. I am amazed by the sheer volume of print material. Today's news wraps tomorrow's fish and chips and on and on it goes. Readers only realise gradually newspapers are built for skimming. You simply have to learn the essential point of a story is usually contained in the headline and the introductory sentence.
I suspect that in a slightly tongue in cheek way newspapers like to occupy the moral high ground. Editors like to be right - who doesn't? - and in the midst of controversy it is almost impossible to topple them. I am sure newspapers seek to present a face of truth but I wonder whether it is possible for them to present "the unclouded face of truth" C. P. Scott talks about. Nor do I think you can separate comment from fact in the way he does.
So I approach the idea of newspapers in education with some caution. I want to say though that I really appreciate the Outlook and Youth Focus pages which have appeared in the Wellington papers this year. Like most adults I read them carefully. Outlook subjects have included trees and forests, the elections, sex roles and Te Māori. Youth Focus has featured vigorous articles by students on new image rugby, belonging to two cultures, corporal punishment, learning about AIDS.
Now that is not exactly what I used to read in my School Journal but I am impressed. These contributions positively encourage the reader to be critical and assess an issue rather than just receive information someone else thinks is good for them. There is a sense of participation and presentation of material not duplicated elsewhere in the newspaper. Why is this exercise restricted to the school population?
As I understand it, education should free curiosity, permit individuals to go charging off in new directions dictated by their own interests, unleash the sense of enquiry, open everything to questioning and exploration, recognise that everything is in a process of change. And running through all of these are the issues of morals, which is the question of right and wrong, values, which is the question of what are the desirable ends and means for life, and ethics, which is the question of why these particular choices are right or desirable.
The goal of education must be to develop a society in which people can live more comfortably with change that with rigidity. The programme which has brought you to this Conference serves this goal. I am glad there are people such as you concerned with Newspapers in Education and I gladly declare the Conference open.