Programming note: Watch CNN Special Report “Battle in the Briefing Room: The President vs. the Press” Thursday at 9 p.m. ET.

CNN  — 

2017 was a year when discussions of press freedom and the media’s choices reached a new level of intensity.

White House briefings, presidential tweets and rallies critiqued the media.

Journalists pushed back, while engaging in lively debate about the ways they approach their work.

And, perhaps fittingly, the year is about to end with the release of “The Post,” a Steven Spielberg film, starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks, that retells the story of how an administration tried, and ultimately failed, to stop newspapers from printing a damning government report about the Vietnam War.

Despite the news coverage, the Hollywood treatment and the millions of words of commentary about these issues, just how much do most of us truly understand about why journalists do what they do and why the Constitution affords protection for free expression?

free press culture

In response to that question, CNN Opinion published articles by 26 leading thinkers and writers on the history of press freedom and the challenges the media face today in America and around the world.

In these essays, authors explore how press freedom protects everyone who is active on social media and empowers people to question and ultimately strengthen the institutions that deeply affect our lives.

They show how dictatorship flourishes when the press is silenced. They explain why America’s free press is a model for the world. They describe what happened when a US president stopped the publication of articles about a study that delved into the government’s role in conducting an unpopular war. They demonstrate how past administrations have worked to moderate the natural conflict between the White House and the press.

They examine how to combat false information on social platforms and why the term “fake news” obscures more than it reveals. They recount why conservatives lost faith in the mainstream media and what happens when the press gets it wrong. They delve into the challenges facing the media today, from information overload to rebuilding trust with skeptical audiences.

We believe these views offer a good foundation for framing the debates that will no doubt endure into 2018 – and beyond.

Explore the entire series: “Free Press: What’s at stake”:

Brian Stelter: Why press freedom is your freedom

Frank Sesno: Ask the tough questions

Adam Schiff: One thing Mike Pence and I agreed on

Emily Bell: Does a free press mean more regulation for Facebook?

Joel Simon: The world looks to America to defend press freedom

Diane and James Foley: How to seek justice, for journalists and for all

Christian Amanpour: No free press, no democracy

SE Cupp: Why conservatives lost faith in mainstream media

Julian Zelizer: What Trump won’t tweet: 4 reasons for a free press

Jonathan Peters: The newspaper ad that changed everything

Sonja West: When the President stopped the presses

RonNell Andersen Jones: Value your constitutional rights? Thank a journalist

Jiang Xueqin: Chinese media enable tyranny and corruption

Mikhail Fishman: Russia is killing what little independent press it has

Rafia Zakaria: The borders of freedom: Blasphemy and the press in Pakistan

Hossein Derakhshan and Claire Wardle: Ban the term ‘fake news’

David Gergen: Trump’s foolish war with the free press

W. Joseph Campbell: What happens when the media get it really wrong

Suzanne Nossel: Branding news outlets as foreign agents won’t make them more transparent

Errol Louis: You can’t build the truth on a scaffold of lies

David Love: Why the black press is more relevant than ever

Frank LoMonte: A free press shouldn’t stop at the schoolyard

Victoria Baranetsky: Information overload is driving us crazy – and the media can help

Craig Newmark: Democracy’s immune system is in trouble. Here’s what we can do