Freedom of the press, freedom of the people

By Kelsey Bode and Madeline Hughes

The role of informing you, the public, does not fall to government. Not in the United States of America.

There’s a reason for that. There’s a reason why journalists are left with the task of sifting through landmines of paperwork and information and loopholes and gaps in the system– we shouldn’t be accountable to anyone, except to you, the citizens we serve.

The purpose of journalism, at its heart, is to be the watchdog for our society. The First Amendment that grants freedom of the press was put in place to ensure democracy, effectively placing another check on our government.

To have that questioned, and our role as hubs of information and investigative research endangered by “alternative facts,” is deeply unsettling.

It means that we have to work hard to find the cover-ups, the white lies and listen to the whispers about injustices while everyone else looks the other way. We have to take tips and listen to the gossip and then vet them for the truth.

More than that, we are tasked with checking ourselves and removing our bias. It’s an immense responsibility. It’s journalism.

We know the press is incredibly flawed, but as the students placed in charge of The Defender we work towards good journalism that will engage the public. We wish to foster that building block of democracy on our own campus, developing readers and writers alike.

It’s easy to see the holes and weak places in our media– just consider the initial shock of President Donald Trump’s recent election to many Americans. The predictions and polls various news organizations created got it wrong.

The bias is clear in a number of news organizations as well, for instance FOX News.These organizations have particular slants to their reporting and commentary. It’s hard not to. Some people believe impartiality is impossible, something we shouldn’t even attempt to achieve.

Yet we do. We must, in fact, in order to truly report and to inform fairly.

Beyond all of that, our news stations often fail to cover key stories, or twist content to fit their preferred viewpoint. Just look at how little international news Americans receive. It marks a gaping hole in the information we can access. As fewer newspapers sell, there are fewer and fewer foreign correspondents out there, all of whom are now tasked with covering more.

Given an impossible task journalists seek the truth, seek transparency, and seek to inform and to encourage conversation.
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the journalists who broke Watergate, are legends because they did what every journalist dreams of doing — to unearth a massive conspiracy, set justice in motion, make a monumental impact and inform us all.

In the same vein we may think of Murray Marder, the journalist who covered Senator Joe McCarthy’s hearings with numerous members of the Army. These were Army members McCarthy had accused of spying. Marder covered the events and brought light to the fact that all of the accusations proved false.

Among great journalists and members of the press who bring light to large scale issues, one may also consider Maureen Dowd. Her op-eds for The New York Times create discussion and satirize political issues. It’s a different kind of writing, but informs and challenges the public’s views nonetheless.

Few journalists live up to those golden standards, just like few activists go down in history and few doctors will find the cures to diseases. But we strive for those ideals and incorporate the motives that go along with them in our work regardless.

At The Defender, we aspire to report with the accuracy and acuity of the greats, and do our best to avoid the pitfalls of the worst.
We seek to keep this campus informed and keep conversations going about important topics.

But this isn’t all about our reporters and editors. Actually it’s about us all.

Democracy is a participation sport as you find out in some of this week’s articles. The press is no exception. Please write in letters to the editor, op-eds, etc. We want to hear your voice. We want to generate discussion. There is no one side to any story, and we hope you find value in reliable publications, including and particularly, but not only, ours.