Thornton: using the First Amendment in the Digital Age

As we stumble along the transition into the Digital Age a new development in the arena of public discourse has emerged: the birth of the political gadfly.

Terrance Thornton

A political gadfly is defined as a person who persistently annoys or provokes others with criticism, schemes, ideas, demands or requests.

But while nature’s gadflies play their typical role — an annoyance of larger mammals dealing with a collection of any of the three major types of flies: filth flies, drain flies and blow flies — the political variant is growing in stature.

Throughout this past month readers have been introduced to a growing voice of concern at the Scottsdale Unified School District regarding how the district used its bond dollars and who is carrying out the charge of those dollars.

One thing not many know: the idea for this story didn’t originate from a whistleblower tip — it all started with a letter to the editor.

That letter was written by Loyd Eskildson and it was titled, “Birdwell tenure at Scottsdale Schools raises more questions than answers.” You should read it, it’s accurate as I confirmed each allegation made. Documents provided therein and subsequent news coverage further confirms Mr. Eskildson’s Nov. 13 letter to the editor.

Turns out the pen is mightier than the sword — it always has been and will continue to be as long as we continue to choose to exercise our First Amendment rights.

Our digital opinion pages belong to our readers. Our role is to facilitate the community’s discussion of public issues, draw people out, make sure the discussion is as open and vigorous as possible, and keep it within the bounds of fair play.

In some communities — Scottsdale is no exception — people have forgotten they have the power to influence the decision-making process. They feel overwhelmed by the powerful elements of the local establishment, not the least of which may be the local paper of record’s institutional voice, which towers over all other opinions.

This coming summer will mark my 11th year as a professional journalist with Independent Newsmedia Inc. USA and over those years in the various communities I have worked, at some point I have been asked to offer my opinion on public matters.

My opinion doesn’t matter — yours does.

We don’t write opinion pieces on public matters because:

  • We have faith in the public’s ability to eventually make good decisions if we provide them a solid understanding of the issues and a place to debate and develop their opinions.
  • When newspapers take editorial stances, the newspaper’s reputation for purposeful neutrality is jeopardized, and its news coverage, however even-handed, becomes suspect.
  • We believe our resources are better spent giving people the information they need to make their own intelligent decisions about important public issues.
  • We believe too many citizens have abdicated their public policy decisions to so-called experts, and editorials tend to encourage the trend. We try to involve them in public policy as participants, not just as spectators.
  • Government “by the people” is a messy process but worth the effort. Citizens need facilitators to encourage open and vital public debate but to keep it within the bounds of fair play. We see the facilitator role as the highest mission of our opinion pages.
  • We believe our opinion pages are evolving into the most stimulating and open in the nation. Our readers have proved that they are capable of intelligent participation in their communities, if given the opportunity and encouragement.

If you have something to say, are willing to put your name to it and you believe the greater good will be served by it being published then send it to me. I can be reached directly at or by calling 623-445-2774.

Independent Newsmedia Arizona Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at

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