Journalists are not ‘enemies of the state’ like you hear

If you’re reading this column, you’re already a supporter of journalism, especially community journalism. I hope in these politically charged and fractured times, you will also be a defender. When family, friends and strangers converse about the topics of the day, including media, we need you.

Honest, hard-working journalists are under attack by President Trump. We are not “enemies of the state,” nor enemies of our counties and cities. We’re your neighbors, business clients, caretakers of information about our communities. Often we’re your cheerleaders.

The seeds of demonizing media germinated a long time ago and grew into a full flowering in these times. Back in the 1980s, I was in a conversation in Platte County with a few people when a young man from an old-line family put forth that he did not read regular newspapers. Instead he said, he read a hard-right, anti-government magazine. “They print the news the regular media won’t print,” he said.

In the mid-1990s, I was at the funeral of a relative in another part of Missouri. A person assisting the funeral director asked what I did for a living. I told him I worked as a reporter for The Kansas City Star.

“Oh, you’re one of those types,” he man said. He did not mean it as a compliment.

So when I see national reporters being insulted publicly, strictly for political gain, not for national interest, I know waves of animosity are created that ripple all the way down to our towns. Community journalism is important, as is national journalism. Journalists care about communities. Communities need to care about good journalism.

The relationships are varied between community journalists and the office holders or school board members they cover. The fact is, personalities and abilities vary among both office holders and reporters. Yet, shared experience often yields respect.

I’ve seen people elected to local office who assume that, similar to what they think they’ve observed in national news, the press is to be a distrusted opponent. Then they sit through meeting after meeting and deal with numerous thankless tasks, and they notice through all this the same handful of people sitting out in the audience in a mostly empty meeting room. A handful of journalists are the audience they can count on.

Many an elected official has changed course and reached out to reporters. They recognize hard word. They learn the value of getting community issues they’re working on out before voters and taxpayers. Even if quibbles or outright disagreements arise, most elected officials realize the journalists who cover them are trying to get the story right. And most times they do.

The Kansas City metro area is huge, and covering the news is difficult in a territory bisected by a state line, seven counties, and numbers of cities both large and small. The Star or TV stations don’t show up in our neighborhoods unless it’s something highly unusual or a disaster. Community journalists such as the Citizen’s reporters work in Platte County daily, and that alone deserves respect.

High school sports get meaningful coverage in local newspapers. That is important to families and community pride. Businesses get a place to advertise, buyers get a place to shop. People who care about the world outside their front door keep abreast of tax issues, personalities, festivals and ribbon cuttings.

America’s free press is a key factor in what has made and kept America great. Imperfect at times, yes, but also invaluable.

Be a defender for democracy, support journalism at both the local and national level, because journalists value and serve you.

 

 Bill Graham

Bill Graham