And no, I’m not trying to be dramatic.
In a departure from their usual role, journalists have been the subject of headlines in recent reporting. Between cops threatening to shoot journalists reporting in Ferguson, Missouri, the beheading of photojournalist Jim Foley by militants in Syria, and attacks on journalists in Egypt, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, etc., it seems like a bad time to be a member of the press. Which is depressing because we need good journalists now more than ever.
To return to the title of this blog post, the United States is a democracy. This means that the citizens elect the officials who represent them. These elected officials are entrusted to make and execute policy decisions. A true and well-functioning democracy is dependent on a well-informed public that is able to elect the government that best represents their interests, and then hold said government accountable for its actions. This is why the free press is so important. They are the link between us and the government.
Lifelong journalist Helen Thomas one said, “We in the press are the only institution in our society that can question a president on a regular basis and hold him accountable. It’s the greatest profession in the world. It’s a search for the truth.”
But the reach of the press extends far beyond the White House. Not every person can be in every crisis zone all the time. And not every (if any) person probably wants to. But I think people have the right to know about the militant police action against protesters in Ferguson, so that they can be properly outraged and be moved to bring about change. I think people have the right to know about Ebola outbreaks in Africa, so that they can take proper travel precautions or to donate to aid agencies. I think people have the right to know about civil struggles in Ukraine, Iraq, Gaza, and Syria, so that we can form our own opinions about wrong and right and support or oppose the actions of their political representatives. The US has many sneaky fingers extended in many places both domestically and internationally, and we have the right to know what those fingers are doing.
The press serves as this link between the citizen and the world. Journalism is a difficult job; it can be tough to form the right questions, and even tougher to do the sleuthing or prying of reluctant interviewees to reach the answers. Journalism is a dangerous job; even though the press is often granted access and protection in conflict zones, neither access nor protection are guaranteed. Often, we read the paper and take for granted the information that is provided to us, unaware that people risk their livelihoods and lives to print these words before our eyes. Journalism is also a noble job; as Thomas said, “It’s a search for the truth.” And finally, I think journalism is a necessary job. We can’t have a true and functioning democracy without it. A blow to journalists and journalism is a blow to democracy.