Women, immigrants, science.
We’ve all covered marches for these groups and many others, but we have not championed the underlying mechanism for guaranteeing our right to do so — the First Amendment.
We are guaranteed the right to freedom of religion, speech, press, and to peaceable assembly and petition of grievances to the government. For obvious reasons, I’d like to focus specifically on “freedom of the press.”
This is a time when it makes total sense to flood our streets and capitol steps in support of our constitutionally protected right to a free press. Daily we are assaulted with accusations of “fake news,” accompanied by journalists being aggressively attacked personally and professionally.
The journalistic profession is maligned and denigrated with impunity — its very survival threatened — highlighting a vulnerability in our democratic system.
The First Amendment’s protection of the press is a cornerstone of our democracy, and we allow it to be undermined at our peril.
Let’s do a visualization exercise.
Imagine you live in a country without a free press. I know, it’s hard since we tend to take our free press for granted, but work with me. Imagine you’re in, say, Turkey, where the highest number of journalists are currently in prison. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (cpj.org), 256 journalists were jailed worldwide in 2016. In our country’s darkest moments, we’ve ruined and jailed journalists as well. We must be vigilant.
Our profession has established ethical and content standards that increase legitimacy of coverage. Writing a compelling, well-researched article or investigative piece is hard work, not for the faint-hearted. Conducting a substantive and informative interview takes preparation and sophisticated communication skills.
Good journalism takes courage and emotional intelligence. It also takes considerable resources. In short, if you want quality journalism to flourish, readers need to support it with their pocketbooks. In the case of free community publications, this means diligently driving readers to support your advertisers’ neighborhood businesses.
For larger media outlets, this means paid digital and print subscriptions, in addition to supporting their advertisers.
What are you doing to protect our free press besides doggedly trying to keep your organization afloat? When someone in your social circle maligns the press, do you speak up? Or are you and others on your staff passive when your values and livelihood are threatened?
I’d like to make some suggestions on how we can all amp up our activism.
If you don’t already, support the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition (coloradofoic.org), a “nonpartisan alliance of news organizations, groups and individuals” with the mission to “ensure that Coloradans—journalists, the general public, public officials, educators, students, business owners and legal professionals—understand and use the public’s rights of access to the records and proceedings of government and the judiciary.”
To foster transparency, you can also protect press ownership of the public’s access to legal notices — a right that’s periodically in jeopardy. All CPA members have an obligation to support our legal notices website (publicnoticecolorado.com). This site is a vital way to drive accountability.
Let’s consider the Colorado Press Association as owning the mission critical role of aggressive social and political champions for our profession. We have been spoonfed tools such as data, graphics and messaging from CPA to use in disseminating our vital message. Are you using this toolkit?
Finally, rather than simply covering the next march with traditional journalistic detachment, why not add our collective will and voice to a counter-movement in support of our constitutional right to a free press?
Let’s be courageous and vocal. We deserve and need our own march.
Jill Farschman is a CPA board member and co-owner of Denver Metro Media (denvermetromedia.com), a full service digital agency, community journalism champions and publishers of Life on Capitol Hill and Washington Park Profile. She can be reached at 303-778-8021 or email email@example.com.
This article was originally published in CPA's quarterly magazine PressNext. Click here to subscribe and have your print copy delivered.