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Out Here: Media an important part of Government Day

Freedom of the press the greatest lesson

Published: Wednesday, May 22, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT
(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukvalley.com)
Reagan Middle School eighth-grader Mackenzie Kavanaugh shadows Telegraph reporter Derek Barichello at the Dixon City Council meeting Monday night, the end of her assignment for the annual Dixon Government Day.

DIXON – “The people of Dixon are opinionated about city government.”

That was eighth-grader Mackenzie Kavanaugh’s opening sentence after interviewing four people in downtown Dixon on Monday.

Not a bad lesson to learn about democracy, if you ask me.

The Reagan Middle School student shadowed me for Government Day. As part of the activities, 24 students were assigned to follow city commissioners, department directors and members of the media to witness how local government works.

Students later attended the City Council meeting to see the roles played out for real.

Mackenzie was able to gain a different perspective than her peers.

Rather than see the inner workings of government at play, she played the watchdog.

Thanks to the social studies teachers at Reagan, St. Anne and St. Mary schools and Commissioner Jeff Kuhn for realizing the importance of this role in local government.

As the imaginary editor, the assignment I made was simple: We’d answer the questions: “How do people feel about their own government in Dixon?” and “How much do they know about it?”

Three of the four people interviewed did not say the nicest things about the City Council’s performance. Each person, however, enjoyed living in Dixon and knew their form of government.

“They couldn’t do a good job,” and “They’ll do better in the future,” are examples of the quotes she received.

Pretty obvious reaction, considering the Rita Crundwell scandal, but the true lesson goes beyond what the people told us.

Mackenzie realized, in what she wrote, that people can criticize and question their own government. They are free to say what they wish, and the media can mass communicate it.

As she learned preparing for the Constitution test, and I reiterated, “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press,” the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says.

She also overcame some shyness to interview strangers and learned how to structure a newspaper article, but if learning about the right to exercise free speech and free press was the only thing she learned, I would’ve considered it a success.

There is no greater check and balance in the government than public scrutiny.

Stop by

Derek Barichello's “office hours” will be from 1 to 2 p.m. today at Books on First, 202 W. First St. Feel free to stop to ask questions, suggest story ideas, or just chat.

He also can be reached at dbarichello@saukvalley.com or 800-798-4085, ext. 526.

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