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RFE/RL Finds A Kindred Spirit In The Lone Star State

Student interns from Radio Free Liberty Hill. Photo Courtesy Shelly Wilkison/Radio Free Liberty Hill.
Student interns from Radio Free Liberty Hill. Photo Courtesy Shelly Wilkison/Radio Free Liberty Hill.
(Liberty Hill, Texas) There blooms in Texas a news website inspired by the ideals of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and manned by a dedicated group of young journalists. publishes weekly in the small town of Liberty Hill, just outside the state capital of Austin. With the help of about a dozen local high school students and a civic-minded couple, the site aims to inform residents while teaching the basics of journalism.

Charley Wilkison and his wife Shelly co-founded the Radio Free Liberty Hill website in 2008 with the legacy of RFE/RL in mind. "Radio Free Europe was the truth teller and they were the people that got the real facts to the story," Wilkison said of RFE's and RL's broadcasts to countries of the Warsaw pact and former Soviet Union.

Wilkison said the student interns "experience first-hand the consequences of truth telling." He explained that students "have been in the newspaper office when elected officials have burst through the door screaming and hollering and waving the paper" in protest. But interns, "have also been thanked for stories that sensitively covered someone's death or reported an emotional story in the community.

Shelly, who has a degree in journalism, and Charley, who studied political science, had both been high school newspaper editors and worked for their college newspapers. When they discovered that Liberty Hill students didn't have access to a journalism program, Charley said they created the website with "the idea of getting real information, real news behind enemy lines."

Wilkison puts the credit for Radio Free Liberty Hill "to whomever it was in 1951, those forward thinkers that designed this thing called Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty and put that idea of the importance of a free press out there."

He adds they borrowed heavily from that idea, "in a humble way, to bring the news to a little central Texas farming community."

-- Sarah Adler