The history of freedom of press is more than 300 years old. During a trial against the authors of The New York Weekly Journal by British governor William Cosby, the publication was found not guilty and continued circulation of their publication until 1751. At that time, there were only two newspapers in the U.S., though the second newspaper was not critical of Cosby’s government.
Journalism is woven into the fabric of our freedom. The American Press Institute puts it best: “News keeps us informed of the changing events, issues, and characters in the world outside. Though it may be interesting or even entertaining, the foremost value of news is as a utility to empower the informed. The purpose of journalism is thus to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments.”
To me, journalism, like medicine and law, is a practice. Since humans do it, there is always room for error and the only way to get better at it is to keep “practicing” (reporting, writing, etc.) and learning.
There are less than upstanding individuals in every profession and journalism is no exception. This is not a hagiography of the press. I am speaking from my own experiences, and what I have witnessed throughout my time as a member of the press.
Every day, many others, and myself attempt to cover our assignments in a fair manner, without bias, to the best of our ability. We knock on doors, make phone calls, send follow-up emails, and attend sparsely attended meetings to be able to craft a story to make the reader as informed as possible.
We provide the citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions. An article will illicit different types of reactions. The majority may be the same but the way you process it may vary, sometimes largely, from someone else. Suppose I write a story about Mike Smith who opened a new pizzeria in Anytown, Pa. Some readers might think there are already too many pizza places. It’s going to take away from parking from residents. Mike was a jerk in high school. Others may think it’s great he has gluten free options. He hired my friend. Finally, a place that delivers late night.
If you like or agree with every article in your source for news on a daily basis, start reading something else. I bet you even disagree with your best friend sometimes. Good newspapers provide a forum for divergent opinions and show leadership by serving as a watchdog and a constructive critic for government. A good newspaper should also be transparent about the people who are on its staff. Try putting the author’s name of the stories you tend to read into a search engine. Are they a “real person?” Names like Mister E. Man or Tru Seeker should be red flags.
A credible journalist will have no problem using their real name. Their education, background and experience have given them the tools they use every day to cover news under constraints of a deadline.
Journalism at its best is a collaboration. Reporters and editors should have their eyes and ears open to the community and what they think is important. What’s the progress of the roadwork? What are the local elected doing? What does this new ordinance mean?
Journalists are supposed to get the answers so you don’t have to.
I can boo-hoo about the massive cuts newsrooms have faced in recent years but, to use the cliché, that’s old news.
On a local level, if you want the press that existed 300 years ago, especially the kind that asks the tough questions, to still exist, support it. If you want to know what is going on where you live, work and your kids go to school, support your local news. Subscribe (online or in print). Buy ads.
You don’t need a public relations team to get in touch with a reporter and tell them about what your concerns are, about a cause you are supporting, or an unheralded member of the community.
Local news can and should survive because not only is it woven into the fabric of our freedom, but of the community it serves.
Katie Kohler is a Philadelphia area-based award winning columnist and journalist. Visit her website at katiekohler.com. This article is reprinted with permission from Digital First Media and The Times Herald in Norristown, Pa.