This is National Newspaper Week, a 78-year-old celebration that is neither a federal holiday nor an excuse to self-decorate ourselves with flowery praise. So we won’t.
Instead, we’re going to discuss truth.
This is an unsteady time for newspapers, both in the United States and elsewhere. Advertising revenue is funneling to other mediums. Newspapers’ online revenue still lags far behind print. Quality online-only news sites exist, but the web overflows with sites that are nothing but aggregators of newspaper-produced content. Without newspapers, those sites don’t exist. And, yet, the number of U.S. newsroom employees has dropped 45 percent since 2004, the Pew Research Center says.
When Thomas Jefferson, president No. 3, wrote this in 1787 — “... were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter” — he spoke undeniable, empirical truth.
Our nation profits when journalists are ample and empowered as a check against the powerful.
The local examples are many: Who else routinely covers city government in Anniston, Oxford and Jacksonville? Who else delivers consistent news about Jacksonville State University, about McClellan redevelopment, about crime and courts in Calhoun County, about life’s routines in this part of east Alabama? Say what you will about the big dogs in New York and Washington, but The Star is an example of why community journalism matters in small cities and tiny towns across our great nation.
People crave the same information we seek — facts, truths, news.
But there are concerns. Three recent examples are worth your time:
-- In Florence, the University of North Alabama’s student newspaper has struggled to obtain public records about a tenured professor (who has been banned from campus) and a vice president of Student Affairs (who resigned). The Flor-Ala newspaper this week received some of those public documents from campus officials, but this situation exemplifies newspapers’ constant struggle with those who try to keep public records from the public.
-- In Washington, editors at The Washington Post are dealing with the death and apparent murder of one of their columnists, Jamal Khashoggi, in Turkey, perhaps on orders from the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. At least 43 journalists have been killed in the line of duty this year, according to The New York Times. The danger to journalists is real.
-- And at USA Today’s offices in McLean, Va., editors this week are failing to defend their decision to publish President Trump’s op-ed on Democrats’ health-care plans that contained an embarrassing collection of falsehoods, misrepresentations and mis-characterizations. No credible news organization should have printed it. If that’s an example of where journalism is headed — with editors refusing to demand accuracy and admit their errors — that will prove just as detrimental as any loss in revenue.
Trump’s infantile “enemy of the people” rants about newspaper and TV reporters are pure Trumpism, all bluster and vitriol, adopted by the Republican Party and its adherents. That’s fine. But we urge rational Americans, those on the right, left and in the center, to embrace what we do — a daily quest for truth and honesty, even if it’s unpleasant.