SKOWHEGAN — The Margaret Chase Smith Library has announced its 22nd annual essay contest, inviting all Maine high school seniors to tackle important questions of the day with a few words of wisdom.

This year the topic is what the proper role of the media in America is.

High school seniors are asked to write an essay on what they think the news media’s role should be “in these times of withering traditional newspapers, pervasive social media outlets, and rampant fears of ‘fake’ news,” according to a release from library director David Richards.

“The ideal of a free press is so central to democracy that its protection is enshrined in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution,” Richards wrote. “Yet its practice is often contested. This was true during the McCarthy, Vietnam, and Watergate eras in Sen. Smith’s time.”

Smith was a U.S. senator from Maine from 1949 to 1973. She was the first woman to serve in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, and the first woman in Maine to serve in either position. Smith was also the first woman to have her name placed in nomination for president by a major party.

One of Smith’s early jobs was working for a local newspaper in Skowhegan, where she was born, according to Richards. As a U.S. senator, she experienced the manipulation of the media during the Sen. Joseph McCarthy era of the 1950s.

In a 1973 speech, Smith referred to fears that the mass media not only had reported on but also had fanned the flames of widespread social unrest during the 1960s and early ’70s, eventually toppling a president of the United States — Richard Nixon.

“In our own time, questions about the ethics and influence of the media have resurfaced through concerns about ‘fake’ news,” Richards added.

Essays must be typed and double-spaced. Contestants should provide complete contact information so they can receive notification of final results. For publication purposes, essays should be no longer than 2,000 words.

“As always, quality of evidence, argumentation, and writing is more important than quantity of pages,” Richards writes. “The best essays support personal opinions with historical context and cited facts.”

John Taylor, the library assistant, said the essay contest always involves timely issues. He said previous topics have included the ongoing opioid crisis, immigration, and in 2016, a question about what Americans should be looking for in a presidential candidate during an election year.

The library will award $1,000 for first place, $500 for second place, $250 for third place, and five $50 honorable mention prizes. Essays are due by March 30. Prizes will be announced on May 4.

To submit entries or for more information, contact John Taylor, Margaret Chase Smith Library, 56 Norridgewock Ave., Skowhegan, ME 04976; or call 474-7133; or email Taylor at [email protected]

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow