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Reflections:  Support Journalists Who Do What's Right
By Karen Brewer, Publisher
Publisher@TheChristianViewMagazine.com

Journalists were honored, and press freedom was celebrated, in New York’s Times Square with the ringing in of the new year. A group of journalists, representing national and international media outlets, pressed the crystal button that signaled the lowering of the Waterford Crystal New Year’s Eve Ball and began the one-minute countdown to 2019.

The Committee to Protect Journalists was the designated charity honoree of Times Square New Year’s Eve, and CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon was joined on stage by representatives from print and television news media.

“Celebrating press freedom with The Committee to Protect Journalists and representatives of some of the world’s great media organizations was a welcome and wishful way to start the new year,” Tim Tompkins, President of the Times Square Alliance, was quoted as saying.

“Journalists in the United States and around the world faced some serious challenges in the last year,” said Simon. “And so it was inspiring to see so many journalists welcome 2019 by standing together to support an essential principle of American democracy – press freedom.”

We live in a time of ‘fake news’, meaning fake ‘news’ websites and fake ‘news’ social media pages misrepresented as real news media but which are, instead, the propagation of false information that misleads readers. An abundance of such false information has been believed and shared and re-shared on social media, without first any inquiry into whether or not it is factual, and with often a result of making others angry over something that is not even true (just as sometimes happens in life outside of social media).

In this time of ‘fake news’, it is important to recognize and honor true journalism, reputable journalists from real media outlets, journalists who work hard and who work long hours and who make sacrifices to bring you the news, many of whom have been targeted for attack, physical attacks and verbal attacks, and some of whom have even lost their lives, at the hands of criminals, thug regimes, and terrorists.

In an effort “to emphasize the importance of reporters’ work in an increasingly hostile world,TIME Magazine in December honored a group of journalists as the magazine’s ‘Person of the Year’, including the late Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who was murdered in October inside the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, and staff members of The Capital Gazette in Maryland, who were murdered in June in their newspaper office.

The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that 53 journalists were killed worldwide in 2018, 251 were falsely imprisoned, and 60 journalists are missing. Freedom of the press is not a liberty in all parts of the world. 

In countries where there is not a free press but where there are authoritarian governments and leaders who oppress their own people and murder their own people, journalists are silenced, in one way or another. These leaders either try to control the journalists, or they misrepresent them and try to control how others view them and the journalism profession. Journalists are spied on, intimidated, ridiculed, insulted, taunted, lied about, detained and questioned, expelled out of the country, publicly destroyed to be made an example of, or they simply 'disappear', never to be seen or heard from again, their bodies never found.

Journalists reporting in the Middle East have been captured by insurgents and held hostage as prisoners and murdered. Most of those journalists have been local to that area, but some have been from the United States.

American journalists murdered in foreign countries by terrorists in previous years include Daniel Pearl, who was beheaded by Al-Qaeda in Pakistan in 2002, and Jim Foley and Steven Sotloff, who were beheaded by ISIS in Syria in 2014.

American journalists have been murdered in the United States, as well. Among those murdered in the United States in 2018 were Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiassen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith, and Wendi Winters, of The Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, who were shot in their newspaper office in June by a man who held a long-standing grudge against the newspaper because of its reporting of a criminal charge against him, a charge to which he had pled guilty, who had harassed the newspaper staff for years and had made threats against them. He murdered staff members who had not even reported on his crime.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan ordered the Maryland state flag to be lowered to half-staff in memory of the murdered journalists, and he stated, “Journalism is a noble profession upon which our democracy depends.”

The Newseum in Washington, D.C. issued this statement: “We pay tribute to the reporter, who is willing to stand when others will run, and who will press on with questions when others have been cowed into silence. The murder of journalists, who work in service of the public good, is an assault on our foundational freedoms, the truth, and all citizens of our democracy. We encourage you to take a moment to consider a world without news and those who work to bring it to you every day.”

When Terry Smith, a contributing columnist for The Capital Gazette, was asked by a television reporter if he feared that anti-media rhetoric in our nation has put journalism at risk, he answered, “Yes. The atmosphere has changed. It’s acrimonious. There is a wide attack on the media going on.” The television reporter then said, “We know and you know that journalists are not the enemy of the people, correct?” Smith answered, “They are not the enemy of the people. They are the people, part of the people. Their function is really important. There is a full-scale war on the press and a war on the first amendment. I think it’s never been more important and in some ways never more difficult.”

In humorist Dave Barry’s Miami Herald column entitled, “Sorry, I’m Not Feeling Funny Today – My Heart Aches for Slain Journalists,” he wrote that his heart ached for the families, and he added, “My heart also aches, on this sad day, for the larger family of journalists, especially newspaper journalists. It’s a family of which I still consider myself a member. I started in this business in 1971, as a rookie reporter at The Daily Local News in West Chester, PA. Since then, most of my friends have been newspaper people. No offense to any other profession, but these are, pound for pound, the smartest, funniest, most interested and most interesting people there are. They love what they do, and most of them do it for lousy pay, at a time when the economic situation of newspapers is precarious. It’s also a time when the news media are under attack – for being biased, for being elitist, and out of touch with ordinary Americans, for not caring about the nation. And I’ll grant that, in some cases, some of these criticisms are valid. There are incompetent, dishonest people in this business, as in any business. But these people are a minority – I think a tiny minority – of news people, especially newspaper people. There are over 1,000 daily newspapers in the United States, most of them covering smaller markets. The people working for these newspapers aren’t seeking fame, and they aren’t pushing political agendas. They’re covering the communities they live in – the city councils, the police and fire departments, the courts, the school boards, the high school sports teams…These newspaper people work hard, in relative obscurity, for (it bears repeating) lousy pay. Sometimes, they face hostility. Sometimes, they are threatened. But the news people I know are still passionate about what they do, and they do it remarkably well. They do it for you. That’s what the people were doing at The Capital Gazette when they were shot. And the survivors, God bless them, put out a paper the next day. Because that’s what we do in this business. Don’t say we don’t care.” 

So, as we start the year 2019, here’s to hoping that this year will be a better year for journalists and for the noble profession of journalism.

Hopefully, there will not be another journalist physically assaulted, as Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs was body slammed by then Congressional candidate and now Congressman Greg Gianforte, who grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both of his hands and slammed him into the ground, yelling and cursing at him, just because the reporter tried to ask him a question about healthcare. (Gianforte at first lied and falsely accused the reporter of having assaulted him, until an audio recording of the incident proved otherwise, and Gianforte then pled guilty.)

Hopefully, journalists will not be shot and killed, as happened at The Capital Gazette and also as happened to a television reporter and cameraman for a CBS affiliate in Virginia.

Hopefully, no more journalists will be taken hostage and murdered by terrorists.

Hopefully, no more pipe bombs will be sent to journalists, as happened in the United States in 2018 by a man who held an anti-media bias.

Hopefully, journalists will not be threatened or verbally or physically assaulted by those committing crimes or covering up crimes.

Hopefully.

Support and respect journalists, especially your local journalists, whether they work for a weekly or daily newspaper, magazine, television station, or in whatever capacity. Your local journalists may not be risking their lives, but they are devoting their lives to serving their fellow citizens in their own communities. 

(Sometimes, though, even local journalists may be threatened by those involved in crimes.)

If any in the media are ever wrong, of course they should be corrected, but anyone correcting them should be specific and should first verify to make sure that they, themselves, have all of the facts.

It has been my observation that, when a person has a habit of making general, vague insinuations and accusations, rather than being specific, that person is attempting to mislead others about someone and does not want to give that someone an opportunity for defense, and their vagueness is an effort to avoid being 'pinned down' or 'called on' for their words.

A good journalist will always be specific and will get both sides of a story, and that should be a requisite for anyone. 

Expect truth from journalists, but expect truth from everyone else, as well. Hold the media accountable, but hold everyone else accountable, also. Hold journalists to a high expectation of honesty and integrity, but hold everyone else to a high expectation of honesty and integrity.

Yes, there are some in this profession who are not as they ought to be, just as there are in any profession.

There may be some untruthful people in the media, but there are untruthful people in other professions, as well. 

Don't label all journalists as bad. Don't do that to any profession. All members of any profession are not to blame for the actions of some.

Most of us believe in doing what’s right and treating others right, and we practice what we believe. 

Yes, there are those of us who always speak the truth and always write the truth and have never spoken or written anything untrue or unfair. 

Yes, there are journalists who have never lied about anyone but who have been lied about --- by those who are not journalists.

No, we are not the enemy of the people. We are the people. We are just like you, no better, no worse.

Yes, we work hard, and we work long hours, and we did not choose this profession for fame or (certainly not) fortune, as the vast amount of free information on the internet has created a perception that all news should be free, meaning that the journalist should work without a salary.

We write because we have to, because it’s as natural to us as breathing. 

We want to tell stories of real life. We want to share about the human condition. We want to share truth. We want to tell people’s stories. 

People who do bad things are often reported about in the news, but we want to share stories of people who do good things. We want to show that the world is not all bad, that there are good people in this world. And we want to write about what is good. 

But, sometimes, we ask ourselves, is it worth it?

January 11, 2019


Previous Reflections columns: 

In Memory of Journalist Jim Foley


In Memory of Journalist Steven Sotloff