Shining a light on democracy
Industries and jobs disappear over time. We no longer need lamplighters or ice cutters. We don’t have to go to the video store or wait at home for a phone call. Few will argue that electricity, refrigeration, Netflix and cellphones have not made our lives easier.
As an editor and reporter for almost 20 years, I’ve watched anxiously as the media landscape has changed in the Granite State and beyond. All media has been affected by declining revenues, staff reductions and changing distribution models.
Fifty years ago, if you did not read the newspaper, your only other option was to catch the local or network news when it was on. In 2017, you can get information from infinite sources via the internet and social media and several cable news networks 24/7.
Following the logic spelled out above, this would seem a more than adequate replacement for not only a printed product, but also paid, professional journalists. But it shouldn’t be, and it can’t be.
In this issue, we are concluding our four-part Democracy Deconstructed series with a look at the essential role the media plays in maintaining a functioning democracy.
The existence of a free press, guaranteed by the First Amendment of the Constitution, is what separates a democratic country from an authoritarian one. In North Korea, the press is strictly controlled because when you control the press — the flow of information — you control society. You can’t criticize the government or its leader or you will be jailed.
In the United States, press freedom is what allows information to get to the citizenry so they can make informed decisions about our government – the government elected by us and that represents us.
That information needs to be produced by professionals who adhere to a strict set of standards and ethics. Anyone can post information on the internet, but as it is stated by the American Press Institute, a “journalist places the public good above all else and uses certain methods – the foundation of which is a discipline of verification – to gather and assess what he or she finds.” A journalist, first and foremost, keeps the powerful in check, and their highest obligation is to the reader.
News companies, like other industries, need to make a profit. And there are organizations that have a social, cultural or political agenda they push via “news reporting.” News comes at us in all directions. It is a challenge to figure out who and what to believe.
Readers need tools to be able to evaluate the validity and truthfulness of a news source. In this issue, we give you tips on how to improve your media literacy, and more importantly, we provide resources so you can teach your child how to be a consumer of news. When news consumers know what to look for and what questions to ask themselves, they can make better assessments of what they are reading.
As a journalist, it is disheartening to see when we sometimes fail to fulfill our mission of reporting accurate, critical information to our citizens. Journalists are not perfect — they make mistakes and can be careless. But destroying press freedoms, threatening journalists and media companies, and failing to defend the First Amendment could be the death knell for our democracy and our country.