Wednesday, July 10, 2013

There’s no substitute for free press

A long with religion, speech, the right to assemble and the right to petition the government, the founding fathers included the press as first among the freedoms guaranteed to all Americans by the Bill of Rights.
    The press is the way that freedom is exercised. The best journalists, as practitioners of a free press, see their work as a public trust and work responsibly to ask questions and report the answers seriously. Good journalists and editors know that fact and falsehood are not the same. A fact is something that has actually happened or that is empirically true and can be supported by evidence. President Barack Obama was born in America, not Kenya, no matter how loudly that fact is denied nor how widely the falsehood is proclaimed by a carnival barker like Donald Trump. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is not “transparent,” no matter how much President Obama insists that claim is fact.
    Whether we like a person or don’t like a fact matters not. Journalists do their work so that no matter what we believe, we can at least know the facts.  Given modern media, access to the facts should be pretty simple. Twenty-four-hour cable and Internet blogs and aggregators like Politico and the Huffington Post mean journalists can put up stories whenever and wherever they choose, but without editors there is no one checking up on them. It is not uncommon for a writer at the Idaho Mountain Express to be confronted by an editor or the publisher posing the question, “Where did that piece of information come from? Is it valid? Has it been verified, twice?”
    The common wisdom is that newspapers are dead, that their existence doesn’t really matter. One can only imagine how sad the founding fathers would be about that attitude.  Only by having a newspaper that ferrets out the facts can the residents of any community know what decisions are being made that affect their lives. Only by weighing in with votes shaped by those decisions can citizens assure they will have the kind of community they want.  
    This year, the Idaho Mountain Express won 43 awards from the Idaho Press Club for excellence in journalism. Journalists, by nature, are competitive, so we were happy to win. But what counts is not that the Express won, but that the newspaper is driven to tell the truth, to make sure its readers are well-informed, and to serve its community through a free press.

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