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All hail the printing press, other flash wisdom

There’s been a lot of important news on the journalism front recently, but busy weeks have prevented me from tackling it all individually.

So let’s punch through it all here in some quick-hit bits of wisdom:

∫ MLive closes its Grand Rapids-area press. The publisher of some major-league newspapers, including the Grand Rapids Press, Flint Journal, and Ann Arbor News, shuttered its printing press in Walker, near Grand Rapids, and transferred production of all eight of its Michigan papers to Cleveland, Ohio.

Beyond the obvious trouble with that news — namely, 71 Michiganders losing their jobs — that decision could have some serious impacts on the quality of news that print readers enjoy. It’s a six-hour drive from Cleveland to MLive’s farthest paper, the Muskegon Chronicle, which can only mean either Muskegon print readers will get their paper very late or Muskegon writers will have very early deadlines, meaning often incomplete news on the Chronicle’s front page (no election results, no prep sports scores).

MLive’s decision was all business: The Walker facility once had a contract to print Gannett’s papers, but Gannett recently took production back in-house. Plus, while print remains profitable, all the growth in both readership and ad revenue is online.

Still, a great many readers still rely on a printed newspaper for their daily local news, and too many papers are leaving them behind. Plus, printed papers offer a lot we can’t duplicate online, most importantly a hardcopy piece of memorabilia. It just isn’t the same to frame an obituary or story about your grandkid’s game-winning play that you printed off the Web.

Finally, running a printing press is a skilled trade, and press closures are draining a lot of expertise out of the American workforce (The News is looking for a pressman, by the by; call 989-354-3111 for information).

(Read MLive’s story on the press closure here: https://tinyurl.com/y5vcbby9).

∫ Homeland Security compiled intelligence on journalists. The Washington Post reported recently that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s intelligence arm had compiled unclassified dossiers on journalists covering protests and riots in Portland, Oregon. The agency shared those dossiers with Portland-area police.

The practice was apparently against Homeland Security policy, and the department chief ordered it stopped after reading the Post’s report.

I’m glad to hear the practice apparently wasn’t officially sanctioned by headquarters, but it shows Donald Trump’s administration needs to send a stronger message from headquarters that the First Amendment needs to be respected and the Constitution demands journalists be left alone by the government.

It also means, fellow journalists, that we need to be as flawless as possible, both professionally and personally. If the government’s breathing down our necks, we need to make sure we’re giving them no ammunition to discredit our work.

(Read the Post’s story here: https://tinyurl.com/y46n4grx).

∫ Americans blame the press for partisan rancor. Fox News reported this week on a Gallup poll showing 84% of Americans blame the media for political division, and majorities think the media is biased and intentionally reports false facts.

That is definitely something to which the press needs to pay attention, but I’m worried there’s a bit of messenger-shooting going on, here — the press, after all, is reporting on, not creating, the rancor — and I worry too many respondents are like the reader who called The News a liar for reporting MediLodge of Alpena staffers had failed to follow coronavirus prevention protocols, even though the state inspection reports proving our story were publicly available online. Or, perhaps worse, like the reader who accused us of not writing a story we should have written and then, when provided a link to that story proving we had written it, admitted he just hadn’t read it.

(Read Fox News’ story here: https://tinyurl.com/y53k2km8).

∫ Judge orders press to hand over protest photos. A judge in Washington state has ordered the Seattle Times and other media to hand over to police photos and video of protesters who occupied several Seattle streets. The police said they couldn’t prosecute lawbreaking protesters without them.

That’s already settled case law in Michigan, where the state Supreme Court agreed with the Lansing State Journal back in 2000 that prosecutors can’t force the media to hand over unpublished photographs (see a summary of the case here: https://tinyurl.com/y2gunjup).

In addition to reporting on lawbreakers, journalists must hold the police and government accountable for treating those lawbreakers fairly. That can only happen if the lawbreakers trust journalists enough to share their story. That’s unlikely to happen if the lawbreakers think journalists are gathering intelligence for police.

(Read the Washington Post’s story on the issue here: https://tinyurl.com/y339ymdt).

Justin A. Hinkley can be reached at 989-358-5686 or jhinkley@thealpenanews.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinHinkley.

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