On Sunday, April 17, John Spencer Camp Professor of Music Neely Bruce will direct his piece titled “The Bill of Rights, Ten Amendments in Eight Motets” at Prospect United Methodist Church in Bristol, Conn.
The event is a benefit for Steve Majerus-Collins, a former journalist at the Bristol Press. Majerus-Collins worked for the newspaper for 22 years. On Christmas Eve of last year, he resigned to protest the unethical behavior of the paper’s publisher, Michael Schroeder.
After his resignation, Majerus-Collins published a note on Facebook outlining his decision. The note has garnered over 5,000 likes and 4,000 shares.
He begins the note outlining the first cover-up at the newspaper.
“…Mr. Schroeder cut a deal with a major advertiser, the local hospital, to keep a damaging news story under wraps,” the note reads. “Because she could not let the community know the local hospital had fired all of its emergency room physicians, my wife, Jackie Majerus, handed in her resignation.”
Majerus-Collins said there have been several instances of misbehavior by Schroeder. Majerus-Collins also mentions in his post the recent story that has been playing out in Connecticut press. It turns out Schroeder was tied to a big businessman from Las Vegas named Sheldon Adelson, who has been embroiled in a battle with the Nevada business courts. An article exploring the subject of business courts, particularly Clark County judges from Nevada who may have been involved with Adelson’s case, appeared in The New Britain Herald and The Bristol Press under the pseudonym “Edward Clarkin.” Both publications are edited and published by Schroeder.
“…Mr. Schroeder lied…he submitted a plagiarized story, bypassed what editing exists and basically used the pages of my newspaper, secretly, to further the political agenda of his master out in Las Vegas,” Majerus-Collins’s Facebook note reads. “In sum, the owner of my paper is guilty of journalistic misconduct of epic proportions.”
Later, in an interview, Majerus-Collins shared what his own life has taught him about freedom of the press.
“I’ve always thought that the freedom of the press is so absolutely essential to everything we hold dear,” he said. “I actually learned early in my journalism career that there’s a cost to that.”
Majerus-Collins and his wife run a non-profit called Youth Journalism International (YJI). Through this organization, they support and guide young journalists from around the world. He admitted that his work with YJI influenced his decision to quit the Bristol Press.
“It was one of the reasons why I knew that I couldn’t keep working for Michael Schroder,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to teach people to [practice journalistic ethics] and not live it.”
Majerus-Collins discussed why he believed Bruce’s piece was relevant to his own situation.
“You can’t talk about the Bill of Rights without talking about the First Amendment,” he said. “[Bruce] decided that after I quit the paper, he was going to perform the piece in Bristol.”
Bruce explained why he originally wrote the piece.
“I set the Bill of Rights to music largely because if you sing something, you’ll remember it for life,” Bruce said.
Bruce expressed concern over the knowledge many Americans lacked of the Bill of Rights. He noted that this is especially prevalent among the youth.
“Almost 50 percent of the youth in America [said] that it was okay for the government to censor the press,” he said. “My response to this was to set the First Amendment to music.”
Bruce also directly addressed the situation of Majerus-Collins and explained why he thought his piece could help.
“[Majerus-Collins] resigned because of what he considered a flagrant violation of journalistic ethics,” Bruce said. “I wanted to help, but also I wanted to call attention, in a different way, to the whole situation.”
Andrew Hogan is a photographer who has worked on the piece alongside Bruce. He helps to find powerful photographs to couple with each amendment in the Bill of Rights. Hogan shared what he has learned since he began working on this project with Bruce.
“The Bill of Rights is amazingly subtle. It’s not a straight-forward list. It’s much more of a framework,” Hogan said. “Once I began to understand that, [the Bill of Rights] had a whole new meaning.”
Hogan also expressed optimism over what he thought would come from performing Bruce’s piece.
“It brings up a more informed discussion than what we frequently have,” Hogan said. “I don’t know how many have sat down and read them. Neely’s idea of putting them into music and putting them out there is a wonderful idea.”
A Concert Celebrating the Bill of Rights will be performed on April 17 at 4 p.m. in the Prospect United Methodist Church in Bristol. All proceeds will go toward supporting Majerus-Collins and his family.