A good year to make journalists part of the story
I wept, with heartbreak and with pride, the day in June that a gunman killed five reporters in Annapolis, Md.
From the moment I saw the Balitmore Sun’s first tweet announcing the breaking news, I knew that, unless the gunman somehow managed to murder the staff in whole, there would be an edition of the Capital Gazette the next day.
That’s just how journalists operate. It’s something ingrained in us, as if the very ink that scrawled the First Amendment on paper nearly 230 years ago runs through our veins.
So I wiped tears from my cheek when Capital Gazette reporter Chase Cook tweeted that day: “I can tell you this: We are putting out a damn paper tomorrow.” And I cried some more when I saw the first images of Cook and his colleagues working out of the bed of a truck in a parking lot across the street from their blood-stained newsroom.
Reporters are told before they type their first lead to keep themselves out of the story. We are chroniclers of history, not makers of it.
But the murder of five Capital Gazette reporters and the printing of that paper the following day was just one of many instances in 2018 in which journalists and their bravery were forced into headlines. There also was the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, allegedly directed by a head of state of a key U.S. ally. There was the Russian journalist who felt so endangered — after seeing five of his colleagues killed since 2000 — that he faked his own death in a successful bid to out his tormenters.
And, of course, there was the American president, who swore to uphold a Constitution that guarantees press freedoms, repeatedly calling the press the enemy of the people.
Yet, day after day, as they have since Thomas Jefferson first said he’d prefer “newspapers without government” over the other way around, press the world over kept doing what they do because, as Washington Post editor Marty Baron put it, “We’re not at war with the administration; we’re at work.”
For all of those reasons and many more, TIME Magazine made journalists its Person of the Year (read their full essay here: https://tinyurl.com/y7pukqtz).
Maybe there’s a bit of self-serving pride in that decision, journalists — feeling defensive — praising other journalists. But I think it’s something more than that.
I think it’s a recognition of the role journalists play in making sure the many wars of the world are fought on a level playing field, an honor to the ideals that made our founding fathers put press freedoms into the very first amendment of the Constitution.
I think the real heart of the reason was summed up in this gem of a paragraph from Karl Vick, who penned TIME’s essay on the reason journalists were named Person of the Year:
“This ought to be a time when democracy leaps forward, an informed citizenry being essential to self-government,” Vick wrote. “Instead, it’s in retreat. Three decades after the Cold War defeat of a blunt and crude autocracy, a more clever brand takes nourishment from the murk that surrounds us. The old-school despot embraced censorship. The modern despot, finding that more difficult, foments mistrust of credible fact, thrives on the confusion loosed by social media and fashions the illusion of legitimacy from supplicants.”
That sentiment is why, though CNN and Fox News compete with one another for ratings and often air talking heads calling the other “fake news,” Fox has repeatedly joined other journalists in battles with President Donald Trump’s administration over press access. Fox was on the side of CNN’s Jim Acosta when the administration tried to strip him of his credentials without due process, and I’m sure CNN would be on Fox’s side if the tables were turned.
And that sentiment is why, though journalists are never supposed to make themselves part of the story, 2018 was a good year to do so.
Because journalists, as individuals, are faulty humans who make mistakes and have lapses in judgement and some days just don’t feel like working.
But journalists, collectively, represent the highest ideals of a free democracy. The right to speak and write and print without interference is as important to American ideals as the right to worship how we choose, because the sharing of information is how democracies arm their people for self-government.
Kkudos to TIME for honoring those working to protect those ideals the world over.
Justin A. Hinkley can be reached at 989-358-5686 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley.