It’s been one week since the Annapolis shooting. All mass shootings bother me, of course, but this one especially so. Maybe it’s because my first career was as a journalist. Maybe it’s because we seem to have moved on so quickly. Maybe it’s because of our president’s vilification of a free press (1, 2). For whatever reason, this particular act of terrorism left me breathless. When the Capital Gazette published a blank editorial page (3), I knew I wasn’t the only one feeling this way.
So, I want to thank all my journalist friends. I see you. You’re doing a hard and important job under difficult conditions. I respect that so much. We need you.
I hope others will reach out to journalists as well. I can say from my own experience that the hours are long, the pay is not enough, and the abuse from readers can be both exhausting and frightening. But for me, at least, it was always worthwhile when somebody told me that my reporting had an impact on them. (And the colleagues also made it worthwhile. In my experience, journalists are just some of the best people you’ll ever meet.)
The free press is important, people. Protect it. Reach out to a journalist. Subscribe to a newspaper. For heaven’s sake, consume multiple news sources.
Here is the text of the First Amendment, the constitutional root of our free press and our free speech in this country, for reflection. (And this is from memory, btw, because our journalism teachers are also amazing.)
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
Even more troubling than the economic damage the tariff is causing is the threat it presents to the strength of America’s free press. The rise of online advertising already has shattered the business model of many newspapers, and most small regional dailies have been forced to consolidate or close. Those that have shifted to an online-only format have tended to offer fewer well-reported stories of interest to local readers.
In such an environment, a sharp price hike in newsprint, which is generally the biggest budget item after labor, could force dozens of additional publications to close or be reduced to shadows of their former selves. The killing of local newspapers by the imposition of tariffs would gut the nation’s free press. It is local newspapers, not cable news networks, that scrutinize the goings-on at town halls, and how tax dollars are spent on schools and public works. Local papers are indispensable in uncovering corruption in government. They expose hospitals that mistreat patients and companies that dump chemicals into local streams. For many people of modest means or who live in rural areas, these papers are the top source of community news and information.