On Thursday, April 28, BenitoLink held its second “Contributors' Night” at the Tres Pinos Inn Guest House. Much to the surprise of the BenitoLink staff, commentary writer Marty Richman presented the whole BenitoLink contributors' group with a “First Amendment Award." The award was a lighthearted "tip of the hat" by writer Richman to BenitoLink for its growing number of contributors posting material on the nonprofit, community news website.
BenitoLink has a small team of professional reporters and photographers posting stories. A substantial number of writers post their stories directly to the site. Over the past year, the quantity of material BenitoLink is publishing has quadrupled. BenitoLink staff is committed to the consistent coverage of local governmental meetings as its first priority. It plans to continue expanding and provide more in-depth reporting in the future.
Contributors' Night occurs twice a year and is an opportunity for story producers and photographers to get together in a non-virtual setting. Writers who represent local nonprofits, commentary writers, reporters, photographers and special guests attend the event. It is a chance to hear what stories they are working on and what is happening countywide.
Richman presented the award and afterwards, the group added their signatures to the bottom of the document. The award credited BenitoLink with “providing an open forum so people can exercise their right of free speech.” It was addressed to BenitoLink, stating, “To its staff and contributors for facilitating, exercising, and defending freedom of speech and assuring it remains alive and well in San Benito County.”
Richman wrote a regular column and commentaries for the Hollister Free Lance from 2007 to 2014 and is still a frequent contributor to both the newspaper and BenitoLink. He also regularly addresses local government meetings — such as the county Board of Supervisors and Hollister City Council — during the public comment period.
Richman had a 24-year career as an engineer, manager and consultant in the electronics and energetics-explosives industry. He is a co-patent holder of an airbag initiator design. He and his wife, Joyce, have lived in Hollister since 1996.
The BenitoLink award was an opportunity to reflect on the First Amendment and what it means to media in San Benito County.
First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Richman provided a few comments on the award by email after the event: "I became interested in the First Amendment in the late 1950s and early 1960s through a confluence of events. I was reading George Orwell’s novel 1984, trying to understand our cold war enemy the Soviet Union and investigating the origins and practices of the Holocaust because I am Jewish,” Richman wrote.
He shared his view of the most significant risk to the First Amendment: “Today, the major threat comes from government opacity at all levels and the public’s demand to be 'protected' from uncomfortable ideas in the form of speech codes and so-called Free Speech Zones. The fact is the entire nation was designed to be a free speech zone provided you do not impinge on the rights of others.”
Richman continued, “Those who would silence your opposition are not your friends because one day they will see you as the opposition and silence you too."
BenitoLink is an open platform that allows citizens to post their own opinion pieces and stories. This allows our readers to hear other perspectives and discuss new ideas.
“I decided that of all the constitutional protections, freedom of speech (or expression) and the closely related freedom of the press were the most precious for without them all the other freedoms can be abridged without protest,” Richman said.
If you have an interest in supporting BenitoLink, the website will be part of the regional Silicon Valley Gives fundraiser on Tuesday, May 3. A special thank you to the Tres Pinos Inn for the use of the guest house and to Richman for the thoughtful recognition.