Last week, we gave our daughter a copy of the Brownwood Bulletin published on the day she was born.
When she picked it up, she carefully turned every page, studying each article and commenting on several of them. It was like all of it was brand new, instead of four decades old.
It reminded me of how most readers once examined a copy of their newspapers that were freshly off the press. Sadly, that’s not how it works today. It’s sad, because current trends limit our understanding of complex issues which in turn diminish the strength of our democracy.
Oct. 7-13 is National Newspaper Week, and its theme is “Journalism Matters Now More Than Ever.”
At a time in history when consumers have more places than ever to find information, many are shunning proven sources that offer solid news and analysis in favor of social media memes and self-serving soundbites.
Facebook, for example, was created for social networking, yet a Pew Research Center study found that 45 percent of Americans get their news from it. While legitimate news agencies do post stories on social media, a mushrooming array of sites created to spread biased information can be found along with them.
It’s not always easy to tell the difference, but it’s important that we try. Actually, it’s beyond important that we try. It’s essential that we succeed.
Many Americans believe the golden age of newspapers as we know them has passed, replaced by electronic media that provide immediate distribution. I’m not convinced that the demise of print versions of newspapers is certain, but however it evolves, the journalism done by newspapers must not disappear.
The founders of this country recognized the importance of checks and balances among the three branches of federal government and wrote them into its constitution. While the role of journalists was not formalized in that document, those founders also went on record to underscore their conviction that the press must be the ultimate check on any misdeeds of government.
Thomas Jefferson offered an explanation when he said, “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” By extension in modern times, “press” includes other forms of news media.
However, such freedom as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution gives license to all sorts of propaganda machines to express their lopsided views. And in a free nation, they have every right to do so. But when biased outlets — or even foreign agents — assume the guise of legitimate news outlets, naïve consumers are easily led astray. That’s not how democracy is supposed to work. Democracy needs an educated, informed citizenry willing to exercise its freedoms in order to function best.
That’s why journalism is important.
It’s not enough to just get headlines from Facebook, or for that matter from any other source. Headlines can’t tell the complete story. Journalism digs behind the obvious, explores the different aspects of an issue, and explains how and why any of it matters to you. It explains how and why it matters to our community, our nation, and even our world.
Newspapers have historically been the place where reporters have the time and space available to research and present such material, and newspapers continue to be that place even in this digital age. Taking time to examine and evaluate this information is one requirement of being a good citizen.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.