Every part of American government has its purpose.
Legislatures and councils make the laws. Presidents and governors enforce them. County supervisors and city councils set local policies while civil servants at all levels operate the day-to-day agencies to serve the people whose tax money funds their departments. The courts “say what the law is” and, when necessary, issue rulings or writs to ensure government officials and private citizens obey those laws.
Though journalists stand apart from government, we are integral to its public function.
We tell the public what the facts are, question government authorities to ensure tax money is not wasted but instead spent as promised, make sure public records are accurate and accessible to all, laws are enforced fairly and power, whether grand or petty, is not abused.
After the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1788, the states proposed several amendments to assuage Anti-Federalist fears that the new national government was too powerful and might infringe on traditional freedoms new Americans had enjoyed as colonists.
Chief among those was opposition to censorship of the public and the press. Article XVI of the 1780 Constitution of Massachusetts reads, “The liberty of the press is essential to the security of freedom in a state: it ought not, therefore, to be restrained.”
This article later formed the core of what became the First Amendment, granting all Americans to right to speak without fear of government censorship and the right of the press to inform the public without government interference, a duty we do not take lightly nearly 250 years later. The press, unawed by influence and unbribed by gain, the people’s right maintain.
Americans read “journalism” with the expectation that what’s in front of them is true: Quotes are verbatim, data is accurate, sources are referenced and information is timely. The public and editors can debate the implications at length in the opinion section, but the core facts are not in doubt.
People may not like what we write — some even hate us for it and we sometimes get threats — but truth is unconcerned with looking pretty or staying safely on the sidelines in a civil debate.
As the editor, if there is a typo or an error, regardless of its origin, it is my responsibility, even now as I am on vacation in the Highlands of Scotland. Typos aside, I fully trust my reporters and copy editors do their jobs with the same integrity and honesty that my publisher expects of me. We constantly have ethics discussions on stories about what we can publish, what we should publish and what we will publish based on what we know, what we can prove and what we can confirm.
“News is what someone wants suppressed. Everything else is advertising. The power is to set the agenda. What we print and what we don’t print matter a lot,” Washington Post owner Katharine Graham once said.
Though rare, when a reporter or our newspaper is attacked because a reader dislikes the facts we have reported, I vigorously defend the reporter and the paper’s reputation relentlessly. Any attack on a good journalist’s integrity or the honesty of our publications is not merely a swipe at a news organization or an employee, but a fundamental assault on the pillar that keeps American democracy honest with its citizens.
Thus, it is my duty and my honor to always stand beside my journalists, and in front.
I have the courage to do this because our publisher and general manager will always stand beside us, and in front. An old journalism axiom reads, “If both sides are angry with you, you must be doing something right.” The vast majority of readers greatly respect what we do for our community.
We walk the aisle between the factions and report on both sides of any controversy so readers can decide for themselves how they and their government should act. If you doubt the validity of what you hear around town, pick up a newspaper, call us or send us an email — we have no monopoly on truth; it belongs to us all.