When I traveled with my family as a child, I would drag my parents to gift shops in every new city, looking for postcards and tchotchkes to commemorate our travels, but my father only ever wanted one particular souvenir for himself: a local newspaper. Wherever we went, that was the first thing my dad would buy. It didn’t matter if we were visiting for a day or a week; my father would buy every uniquely local paper at the first newsstand we encountered and he would read them cover to cover, even if they were out of date by the time he got through them all. It was a habit I found quirky as a child, but now feel grateful for, because it helped teach me the value of journalism.
These days, with fake news and junk news clogging our media pipelines, it seems quaint to imagine a time when all our news came from trusted sources, like our local newspapers and evening news broadcasts. But all hope is not lost!
Every day, thanks to the work of incredible journalists across the country and around the globe, we learn more about the world in which we live. The 2017 Pulitzer Prize winners were a mix of big-name journalists from the likes of The New York Times and ProPublica, as well as outstanding local reporters like Eric Eyre of the Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette-Mail, the staff of Oakland, California’s East Bay Times, and the local news team from The Salt Lake (Utah) Tribune, to name just a few.
The world has gotten smaller, thanks to the seemingly simple acts of journalists just doing their jobs. There’s Hadeel al-Yamani, the first woman to become an Al-Jazeera Arabic television correspondent in Yemen. There’s Audrey Jiajia Li, a freelance journalist and independent filmmaker based in Guangzhou, China, who reports on human rights issues in the region. In New Hampshire, there’s librarian-turned-newspaper-editor Mike Sullivan, keeping his community informed in the face of a news desert. In Hawaii, Honolulu Civil Beat is delivering the news and teaching its community important media literacy lessons.
Most of us can’t name the reporters in our local papers, and online it’s impossible to be familiar with every journalist we rely on when there is so much news to consume. But regardless of recognition or reward, these tireless teams of talented reporters continue to deliver the essential information of the day.
Unfortunately, the press isn’t exactly celebrated in most parts of the world. The idea of a free press is an unknown concept in some countries whose governments seek to control the flow of information. Reporters from every country in the world put their safety, and sometimes even their lives, at risk every time they go out to report a story. They are harassed, assaulted and even jailed simply for doing their jobs, and often without any other cause. In extreme circumstances, journalists have died for their work.
And yet, every day, we can open a newspaper, tune in to a local radio program, watch the evening news on TV or scroll through headlines on our phones without ever worrying that we won’t be given the information we seek. We lose not a moment’s sleep from concern about the future of the news media.
But we should not take quality journalism for granted. The explosion of digital communication formats means that anyone with an Internet connection can publish information, and they are not all necessarily committed to reporting the truth like quality journalists from trusted, respected news organizations. Because many sites offer their “information” for free, news organizations have faced incredible challenges when it comes to monetizing their content. But we must demand truthful and accurate news to hold our public officials accountable and preserve the checks and balances necessary for a sound democracy.
The Washington Post’s tagline is “Democracy dies in darkness,” but it’s not only democracy that’s under attack when the press is curtailed. Society as a whole suffers when we don’t have access to information. So today, as we celebrate all the people we love, the News Media Alliance wants to share our love of journalism and the people who keep it alive.
These days, whenever I find myself in a new city, I stop to buy the local newspaper, just like my dad. I don’t know where we’d be without the newspapers and journalists who help shape my views of the world, and I hope to never find out.
Jennifer Peters is former content manager of the News Media Alliance.