×

The future of democracy, journalism

I am concerned about the future of our democracy. Are you?

In fact, I am more than concerned. I am worried we may be teetering on a point of no return. And I think we need to talk about it.

I am inviting you to do just that at an open discussion sponsored by the Association of Lifelong Learners on at 7 p.m. Oct. 14 at Alpena Community College’s Newport Center, Room CTR 106.

Oh, you could stay at home on Monday the 14th and watch another evening of endless droning of cable news networks in their open display of attacking or defending Trump, Trump, Trump, or you could be part of a robust discussion of the Future of Democracy and Journalism, as we are calling the forum.

I have teamed up with Alpena News Managing Editor Justin A. Hinkley to help us explore our precious democracy and the role the free press has in maintaining it.

I have always been fascinated with the insight our Founding Fathers had in drafting the documents that guide our nation. It was a difficult endeavor, to say the least, but, finally, in 1788, the Constitution was adopted.

Yet many remained skeptical of not so much what was in the Constitution but what was not in the Constitution.

Anti-Federalists, as they were known, feared the Constitution didn’t include enough language about individual and state freedoms, so James Madison began drafting the first 10 amendments, which we know today is the Bill of Rights.

The first of these 10 is a mere 45 words, which may be some of the most important words giving us the freedoms we enjoy today. It gave all of us the freedom of religion, the freedom of speech, the right to peaceably assemble, the right to petition our government, and, equally important, the right to a free and unfettered press.

Freedom of the press was critical to those who feared this new federal government could grow into something similar to the British government, which we felt was so oppressive we declared our independence and went to war to gain our freedom. The states agreed and ratified the Bill of Rights in 1792.

How were We The People to know what our new government was up to if all the news was controlled by the government? Madison knew a free press without government censorship was necessary to inform the citizens.

Historically, the press and the government have often been at odds. The government inherently likes to keep many things secret. It is estimated that over 8 billion documents remain classified and are not available to the public. Today, between 50 million and 80 million documents are classified each year. There has been and will continue to be a fight by the free press to have access to the inner workings of our government while respecting the classification system when it pertains to national security.

Yet the press still must play a fundamental role in the success or failure of our democracy. We, as citizens of the United States, must know what our government is doing at all times. And, in this modern day of countless media outlets, the truth is often blurred as we are bombarded with information that is difficult to verify. If we get to a point we cannot trust the media, our democracy is at risk.

But, when I hear President Trump repeatedly say the press is the “enemy of the people,” I get upset, knowing this is so far from the truth it would be laughable if not so serious to the future of our democracy.

Since Washington is mired in partisan politics and the national press is lapping it up, if not egging it on, I believe it is time we talked about it, if for no other reason than Washington won’t.

On Oct. 14, I know that you and I can have a civil discussion about the future of our democracy and the role the press needs to play. We can cover topics like biased news, how you and I get our news, the trustworthiness of the media, and, most importantly, the obligation the citizens and journalists have in preserving our representative democracy. And yes, if the press really is the enemy of the people.

So join us, won’t you? Give up 90 minutes of evening TV on Oct. 14t and help us do what Washington can’t, which is talk about our future in timelines longer than the next election.

I hope to see you there.

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 gregawtry@awtry.com.