From the age of ten, I wanted to be a newspaper reporter, and I had the good fortune to do just that. Although I transitioned into public relations after about 15 years, I still work and live according to the same values and skills required for getting the facts, accurately telling a story and providing information to a broad audience. Much of my work today involves crisis communication, which frequently puts me on the opposite side of aggressive journalists who are looking for as much information as they can get, and in many cases from people who aren’t accustomed to dealing with the press. The tug of words can sometimes become hostile as I work to ensure my clients are correctly represented. My purpose can sometimes be in direct contradiction to a reporter's interests.
But never for a minute do I minimize the need for and value of a free press. Never.
Competition, the endless digital channels and a less engaged public have all contributed to pushing journalists to adjust and evaluate how they function. It’s unavoidable. I admit that I get great satisfaction carrying on about how media outlets should more introspective and examine how they gather and report. But I stand firm that a free society requires news media that aggressively investigate to keep the public informed and free.
There is a reason our Constitution’s FIRST amendment establishes and protects free speech and a free press. The first amendment exists for every citizen, but it’s the work of journalists that hold accountable government, business and a myriad of other institutions.
Newsrooms certainly have less muscle than they once did due to budget cuts and people choosing partisan resources for information rather than outlets that aggregate varied perspectives and thought. The anti-press culture that our president-elect is pushing to create is not just unpatriotic and shameful, it is reckless. When journalist friends share that they’ve received death wishes and threats simply because their job is to report the news, I am sickened. Only someone who fears learning could think such things.
Sometimes news media get it wrong, forego context and balance; they do. But the truth is, they want and work to get it right in order to shine a light on government and all the other critically important aspects of daily life for those of us who are just living our lives. Organizations often change for the better because some enterprising reporter asked a question, and another and another. Brave and relentless journalists unraveled these stories and told us about Vietnam, Watergate, Jerry Sandusky, Anthony Weiner, the Oakland “ghost ship” warehouse fire, Detroit’s toxic water system, former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and prostitution. Who else would have shared the heroic stories about rapid responders to the Pulse Nightclub shooting, improved treatments for HIV-AIDS and war veterans? That's right, members of the free press.
Just as we expect journalists to get it right, we as members of a democracy need to do the same. We have a press that is allowed freedom to pursue, dig, inform, enlighten and uplift. That's what has always made and keeps America great.