It has not been a good couple years for media, and print journalism has been particularly hard hit. Last year the Seattle Post-Intelligencer stopped publishing print editions and dozens of others–The Ann Arbor News, Rocky Mountain News–folded entirely or are are in bankruptcy. Further, giants such as The Boston Globe and the San Francisco Chronicle only narrowly avoided that fate and will likely struggle for years to come.
So, it should come as no surprise that if newspapers are struggling in the digital age, then those who watch the watchdogs too would be struggling. Yet I found the notice in my inbox today that MediaChannel was on the verge of shutting down operations a wake-up call of sorts. As vital as it is to have a free press, it is just as important to have a media watchdog. For the past decade MediaChannel was one of many that performed this role: “As the media watch the world, we watch the media.”
The first newspaper I ever worked for, the Millbrook Round Table, part of Taconic Press owned by the bankrupt Journal Register Company, folded last year. Each closure, at papers large and small, takes away a little piece of the community it serves. Our Founding Fathers though enough of a free press that it guaranteed its rights in the First Amendment. That’s right, the very first one.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; the right of people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” – First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution
While the closure of newspapers can be blamed in part on the current economic situation, their demise is more about the failure of the public to realize their value. They are more than the printed page or an article on a Web site. Journalism, and I am biased toward print, is vital to the existence of democracy. When there is no where else to turn, people often look to the press, hoping that once light is shed on the situation, justice will prevail. And often that is the case. One need only look at countries like North Korea, Burma, Turkmenistan, Equatorial Guinea and Libya to see the impact of a censored press. The Committee to Protect Journalists ranks those nations as the top five most censored countries.
It will take a concerted effort to rescue journalism. I only hope that the public realizes this sooner rather than later.
–By Jennifer E. Cooper