This is a simple story about people who do their jobs well.
I’m judging a statewide newspaper contest, which consists of entries from six local daily papers, all of them multi-issue series of interest and importance to their communities. Contrary to the constant barrage of reports about fake news, sensationalism, and bias, these submissions bespeak a profession that is, well, professional. They are not large, metropolitan newspapers, but small, one-time family-owned operations, who charge their few reporters to dig deep into issues that affect their readers and the communities they serve.
The results, at least in this sample, are astonishing. Each of the series deals with a big issue. Each is thoroughly researched, doggedly reported, and well written. Each began as a concrete story about people and events in the community – two of them, in fact, began with murders – and then expanded into something larger: an effort to understand, not just the single event, but the story’s fuller texture; a responsibility to put the story into a broader context and to suggest solutions; and always an effort to engage the community. Often the reporters’ efforts met vigorous resistance – or, more often, simple stonewalling – from government agencies and corporate entities, which dislike the disinfectant of an independent press. But the reporters kept at it, not content to present merely a balance of viewpoints, but to dig deeper in search of the truth. In this they were aided by an often-astounding ability to sift through mounds of data to find facts that were difficult to dispute.
Does the fact that all six series dealt with issues of environmental contamination, the failure of government agencies to protect citizens, or political corruption give credence to the relentless refrain of a “liberal press?”
No. This is what good newspapers do: challenge the powerful to inform their communities. That six papers, with small staffs and limited budgets, insisted on doing so signals an industry that, in the face of constant attacks from the White House down, is hanging in there.
Never have we needed it more.