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A legacy of free press advocacy

This is a guest blog written by Peter Phillips in honor and in recognition of the life and work of Carl Jensen, the founder of Project Censored. Peter Phillips is President of the Media Freedom Foundation/Project Censored, past Director of Project Censored (1996-2010), and Professor of Sociology at Sonoma State University.

Carl Jensen founded Project Censored at Sonoma State University in 1976. The Project has remained a distinguishing aspect of the University’s curriculum for 39 years,. Carl's pioneering program of hands-on student training in independent journalism has now been adopted at dozens of college and university campuses across the country and around the world.  And today Project Censored is the longest running research project on news media censorship. We were saddened to learn that Carl’s free spirit passed away on April 23rd; but we are proud to carry on his tradition of advocating for democracy, human rights, and a better world.

Carl believed in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and the importance of an informed public as the best protectors of democracy and freedom. In his 2002 book, Stories that Changed America: Muckrakers of the 20th Century, Carl wrote, "We need skeptical journalists giving us the facts, courageous publishers providing the necessary soapbox, an outraged public demanding change.

“I was raised on Horatio Alger and Tom Swift,” Carl wrote in 2002. “I saw the nation survive the worst economic depression in history and the greatest war… America is not the secure and prosperous nation it appears to be….the US ranks at the top in billionaires and near the bottom in the way it treats children with millions of families living in poverty…the real question is how many people are fully aware of these problems and how many voters have all the information they need to deal with them?”

Drawing on his prior work experience as a daily newspaper reporter, a weekly newspaper publisher, public relations practitioner, and advertising executive, Carl Jensen was a courageous free press advocate.  In their book Liberation Sociology, Joe Feagin and Hernán Vera wrote: "Carl Jensen imagined a world with more democracy, and one with a freer flow of information."  Carl saw media censorship as ongoing and active in the US corporate media.  Carl received many awards including the Society of Professional Journalist’s Freedom of Information Award in 1990, the Hugh Hefner First Amendment award in 1992, and the California Newspaper Publishers Association's Outstanding Professor of Journalism Award in 1996.

Carl acknowledged that we cannot always determine why specific stories are suppressed, but he believed that monopolization of media ownership by a handful of major corporations was a crucial factor. “The main point," he wrote in Censored: The New That Didn’t Make the New and Why (1996), "is that our primary sources of news and information are increasingly controlled by a very small group of men—confirming the thesis that an elite group has gained control of most of the national mass media.”

Carl's published works include five Censored yearbooks, his definitive Stories that Changed America, all published by Seven Stories Press, and a three-volume encyclopedia, titled simply Censorship.  But his legacy is not fully encompassed by his published work. It also includes the hundreds of undergraduate students, at Sonoma State and in classrooms across the nation, who each year research news stories from the independent press to determine if those stories were censored in the corporate media. Faculty experts review the stories for credibility and then posted them on Project Censored's website. In April of each year all the students and faculty vote on the hundreds of nominated stories and twenty-five are selected for publication in Project's annual yearbooks. Mickey Huff, professor of History at Diablo Valley College, has been director Project Censored since 2010. Andy Roth, professor of Sociology at Pomona College, is associate director.

Carl Jensen is present within us all at Project Censored.

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