We all need a source of information we can trust. Today we are bombarded with competing and conflicting accounts of happenings. Much of it is conveyed to our eyes and ears by those promoting a particular agenda or point of view. The good news is that some of it comes to us as the product of the labors of principled, honest journalists who understand how crucial a free news media is to a democracy and have dedicated their lives to pursuing and reporting facts, neutral information we all need to make informed decisions.
Those of us who claim membership in this latter group are passionate about our calling. Dictators hate a free press. So do those politicians who chafe at truthful accounts of their words and actions that embarrass them. Such unflattering facts become “fake news.”
But these are grim times for newspapers, for generations our principle source of reliable information. This morning I learned from The New York Times that The Daily News, New York’s in-your-face, crime and corruption-fighting newspaper for the past 99 years, has cut its newsroom staff in half. More than 40 newsroom employees are being fired, including 25 of the paper’s 34 sports journalists and most of its photographers, according to the Times report. The Daily News had to do something to stop the bleeding. In recent years, it has lost millions of dollars from advertising revenue.
This will come as good news to President Trump and those under his spell who label as “fake news” any factual reports about what he says and does, verifiably true information, which can be unflattering, thus embarrassing. Our president refers to news journalists as the enemy of the people. Really?
The decline of newspapers as a population’s principal source of information affects me personally. I found my calling in 1960, when I was appointed editor of a newspaper serving the students and staff of a new community college in Florida. Since then, I have happily gathered, reported, written, edited, managed, coached and taught. For most of my adult life, I have I committed journalism. I am proud of this. In the late ’70s, I left the staff of one of our nation’s leading daily newspapers and joined the faculty of one of our nation’s finest schools of journalism, where I was privileged to teach for 22 years.
Thousands of journalists, and others who respect our labors and our respect for truth, share my sadness at learning the news of the Daily News’ fate. We all should be saddened by this. The respected Society of Professional Journalists explains why in its mission statement:
“To ensure that the concept of self-government outlined by the U.S. Constitution remains a reality into future centuries, the American people must be well informed in order to make decisions regarding their lives, and their local and national communities.
“It is the role of journalists to provide this information in an accurate, comprehensive, timely and understandable manner.” News based on facts is not fake. It is information we can trust, delivered by journalists who are devoted to a determined, principled search for truth that informs our lives. Today, more than ever, we need that.