My suspicions were confirmed
I asked for a show of hands and, when nearly all of the 70 people without hesitation thrust their arms in the air, my suspicion was immediately confirmed.
Normally, when you have that many folks agree with you, it makes you feel good, but that was not the case this past Monday evening at the Association of Lifelong Learners-sponsored discussion of the Future of Democracy and Journalism.
A few months earlier, I approached the Lifelong Learners asking if they would be interested in the topic, and they said yes. I reached out to The Alpena News’ managing editor, Justin Hinkley, asking if he, too, would be interested in helping me moderate. Again, he was eager to accept. Thank you, Justin.
So, what was the question I asked for a show of hands?
It was, “How many of you are concerned about the future of our democracy?”
Now, I would be lying if I didn’t tell you I was a bit apprehensive about an open forum discussing politics and the media, simply because there is such a great divide in society today when it comes to both topics, but I was wrong to be apprehensive.
Yet, I was right in another suspicion, which is that I have always had more faith in the people than in the politicians.
On Monday evening, we accomplished what Washington can’t, which is to talk to one another, be respectful of each other’s opinions, and share your frustrations openly and honestly.
If I made one mistake, it was not inviting those we elected to attend — not to participate, but to attend — and observe how we feel about the state of our country right now.
Nationally, we have a dangerous divide in Washington, and we have a national media that feeds on that partisanship like a school of piranha. The Constitution was clear that We The People were to self-govern through representation, and the First Amendment was clear in giving the press the right to inform citizens, so it was appropriate the first question asked at the forum was, “How did we get to this point?”
It was a great question. I wish we had a great answer.
But, if I read the audience correctly, much of our situation comes down to money. It is simply not possible to address either the future of our democracy or journalism without considering how much of both are dictated by money.
Unfortunately, great sums of money are necessary for national politicians to keep their jobs and for news media corporations to satisfy their stockholders. That leaves us wondering if politicians sell out to major donors, leaving the true work of the people undone, and the national media subjects their audiences to less information due to drastic cuts in journalist positions to satisfy their bottom lines.
At one point, I asked the question, “Do you believe you are getting the information necessary to make informed decisions about voting for your elected officials?”
Again, the response was disappointing to me as a retired newspaper publisher, when their answer was a clear “no.” Again, if we ever do this again, I will make sure we have some members of the national media present to hear from the people about their shortcomings.
So, did any of us walk away from the forum feeling better about the future of our democracy and journalism?
I think not.
But I did walk away with a renewed conviction that we as Americans will overcome this current divide, that our patriotism remains high, that, though our expectations are not being met, we will stand by our country, our Constitution, and our Democratic Republic in thick and thin, as we have done many times before, and that, unlike national politicians that have a vision only as far out as the next election, We The People are all in for the long run.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that most of the frustration was centered around the national scene, both politically and journalistically, and that the local press — The Alpena News, especially — was doing everything possible to inform, educate and entertain the citizens without agenda or bias as does most local media outlets.
So I will end by reminding people that we cannot take this for granted, and the local press is also a business that needs your support.
If you are a subscriber, renew your subscription. If you’re not a subscriber, then consider it in the near future. If you are an advertiser, consider the thousands of consumers who still open a newspaper each morning and make buying decisions based on what they read.
Another thank you to the Association of Lifelong Learners for their sponsorship, to Justin Hinkley and to all who attended for giving me hope that our future is still in our hands.
Greg Awtry is the former publisher of the Scottsbluff (Neb.) Star-Herald and Nebraska’s York News-Times. He is now retired and living in Hubbard Lake. Greg can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.