October 7 through 13 is National Newspaper Week and this year’s theme is “Journalism Matters. NOW more than ever.” That is true on an international, national, state and local level.
As someone who has devoted much of my life to community journalism, I can say without hesitation, the role of the local newspaper is crucial to the public’s understanding of the issues that impact us today more than yesterday.
In the past year, those of us in the news business at all levels have seen our profession slandered, mocked and belittled as biased, fake and irrelevant. I’m not just speaking of the big guys at Fox and CNN. I’m not just referring to the reporters at The Courier Journal or The Lexington Herald Leader.
On some levels we at The Tribune-Courier, along with many of our colleagues at small papers across the nation, have felt the bite of politicos who will no longer answer important questions, will no longer return emails and who will not be forthcoming with requests for factual information.
To the readers of newspapers I contend this is not an affront to those of us in the news business, it is an affront to you. Closing off lines of communications with reporters is not a form of transparency that so many in government have resorted to.
Of course, we in the news business have a responsibility to be fair and unbiased. We do not, however, have a duty to present the news only as outlined in press releases or talking points. If we are doing our jobs responsibly, it is our duty to ask tough questions in search of answers that impact our readers. In short, it is our job to hold government, school boards, law enforcement agencies and others accountable.
Newspaper reporters, including those at The Tribune-Courier, have a longstanding commitment to being in attendance at fiscal court, school board, city council and other meetings. Oftentimes, we are the only media present. Without our reporting of the events that take place in these forums, many in small towns would never know how their tax dollars are being spent, how or if criminals are prosecuted and many others whats, hows and whys.
Many, we believe, would love to see us go away and not have their agendas reported in our pages. Some would rather not see us sitting in the press box at local meetings or in the courtroom when a sentence is handed down. Some would rather we not turn small classified notices into stories placed on our front page because we believe they deserve more attention than a legally-required 12 column inch advertisement.
To our readers, we vow that will not happen. We will be in attendance at every meeting possible. We will ask the tough questions and when we don’t get answers, we will use every means available to us by open records law to uncover the answers.
Why? Because “Journalism Matters. NOW more than ever.”