On balance, the freedoms guaranteed to the press benefit American democracy. This was the topic of debate at this year’s Ronald Reagan Great Communicator Debate Series national competition, held last weekend at the Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley, California. Sixteen high school students debated the pros and cons of that statement, and in this experienced Dog’s eyes, did a better job than most adults who claim to be well informed.
On the pro side, debaters argued that a free press is vital to the American Republic, as it is not only a source of relevant news but also keeps government at all levels in check. Many times referred to as the Fourth Estate, a term attributed to Edmund Burke who, during a parliamentary debate in 1787 stated there were “three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate, more important far than they all.” The press is an ever-present watchdog over the three branches of government.
The negative side of the debate centered on controlling or muzzling a press that is out of control, often creating fake news and sensationalizing stories in order to benefit their own bias or agenda.
Sadly, there are those in our community that would have the News-dog muzzled altogether, permanently silencing an active and outspoken voice for responsibility in government, all because the Newshound’s view doesn’t conform to their personal paradigm. Think about that for a minute: I don’t agree with you so you have to sit down and be quiet. Maybe these ‘my way or the highway’ types would be happier in Turkey, where President/dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan rules with an iron fist, controlling the press and jailing journalists who publish strong opinions against the repressive leadership there.
There’s a reason newspaper offices were often the first to be sacked during periods of war in the United States, and it’s all about controlling the message. On April 14, 1855, a pro-slavery mob raided Colonel George S. Park’s newspaper, The Industrial Luminary in Parkville, Missouri, for its abolitionist leanings and editorials. The mob not only threatened to hang Park and his editor W.J. Patterson in the process, but also threw the newspaper’s printing press into the Missouri River. Likewise, there are those in the community who would rejoice at the silencing of the Dog, much in the vein of George Park in 1855.
The Dog won’t pretend to be worthy of that level of importance, but will offer the parallel that a free and unencumbered press is a necessary component in the great American Republic in which we live.
With great power comes great responsibility, and we here at the House of News take that responsibility very seriously. As professional journalists, we abide by a strict code of journalistic ethics that dictate how we operate, as well as our reporting paradigm. While the naysayers and the opinion silencers work to muzzle the dog, the very important work of being a vital piece of the Fourth Estate will go on. To that end, we will continue to offer award-winning news pieces, because the Historic Northeast community deserves a news outlet that isn’t dictated by some wet behind the ears “if it bleeds, it leads” assignment editor who’s trying to climb to the next bigger market.
Community journalism is all about reporting on the news and events in our community – both good and bad – that shape the community in which we live and work.