As Thanksgiving approaches, I usually take some time to reflect on who and what I’m grateful for and express my gratitude. That seems to be the point, after all. This year, for various reasons, my thoughts and appreciation are with journalists, newspapers and other news media.
Sometimes the people and institutions we rely on to keep us informed have a bad reputation, and sometimes they deserve it.
When the Washington Post and The New York Times act more like political stenographers than fact reporters, we are all losers.
When they trust (their particular partisan audiences anyway) news sources like Tucker Carlson and Rachel Maddow who claim to be serious but then respond to libel lawsuits with the “Alex Jones” defense – they are just artists whose statements are hyperbole and should never be taken as factually correct – they embarrass an honorable and worthy profession. Even simple “opinion journalists” (like me) should act with respect for the facts and the truth.
But The Post, The Times, Fox / Carlson, and MSNBC / Maddow are not the institutions and journalists I think of to express my thanks.
I think – of course! – whistleblower journalists like Julian Assange and foreign correspondents like Danny Fenster, chilling their heels in cells to bring us the truth. And among the many journalists killed, accidentally or on purpose, “in the line of duty” while covering wars and investigating crimes.
But more than that, I think of the local American and community newspapers, dailies and weeklies dotted around the country that continue to do the job of keeping us informed and bringing us together (or at least facilitating our arguments). And, of course, the right people who write and edit these posts.
Yes, I’m biased: I made my debut in the “hard”, just the facts, madam journalism over 40 years ago, writing club notices for publication in my hometown daily, the Lebanon, Missouri Daily Record. I upgraded to my undergraduate, high school, and college papers long before I finally found my place in opinion / advocacy journalism.
If you know how the athletes at your local high school are doing, or which local church is having an ice cream party, or which local hero celebrated their birthday or went to the hospital, thank your local newspaper. If you know what your neighbors think about an ongoing bond issue or local scandal, thank the editor of this newspaper.
Local American dailies and weeklies are supposed to die. At the very least, many have gone entirely online or have reduced the size and frequency of their print editions.
It’s sad. We need them and we should appreciate them. They are a key ingredient in the glue that binds us together, part of the mix that makes up what Thomas Paine called “an article as heavenly as freedom.” Talking about our problems may not solve them, but not discussing them certainly will not. A free press is still largely the place where the productive substance of such discussions takes place.
This Thanksgiving, please give a thank-you moment (and maybe a subscription check!) To the local newspaper of your choice.
Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is Director and Senior News Analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org).