This week is Free Speech Week. It’s a good time to imagine our country without a strong free press. Not without free speech, just without professional journalism.
How would that look? We would still have many amateur bloggers doing their part to fill the World Wide Web with their opinions and reporting. Some would attempt to be fair, but not many. And they wouldn’t cover the news comprehensively.
We most certainly would still have organizations trying to sway public opinion, playing fast and loose with the facts. Some resort to outright lying.
In such a scenario, to whom would you turn to get at least a semblance of a fair, balanced view? Or would you want that? Maybe you would rather just live in an echo chamber, finding people who make the same rants you make. Sadly, many people already do that.
We have a representative democracy. The power ultimately lies with the people. That’s us. But where does the power really lie if we don’t know who is telling the truth, if we don’t know how to make informed decisions? Where does it lie if the bulk of the voters choose to be led around by a select few?
And what about the “representative” aspect of our government? How do we know our representatives are acting appropriately? How many of us can go to Juneau or Washington, D.C., to check up on our representatives? How many can spend the time it takes to follow up on reports of possible misdeeds?
The First Amendment of our Constitution gives us the right to free speech and a free press. That is an excellent right, but how much of a right is it if we do not have professional journalism?
Without professional journalists, we are at the mercy of influence peddlers or of our own ignorance. Many people are already like that. They just do or think whatever their chosen group or individual tells them. Or they don’t follow anyone and then vote based on dubious impressions. Or they don’t vote at all.
Professional journalists are not perfect. They make mistakes. But good professional news organizations try to be as fair as possible. They work as teams, questioning each other’s reporting and writing, trying hard to filter out inaccuracies and bias.
Information gathered and disseminated by professional news organizations help us — the ultimate power in our government — make informed decisions so that we can choose people and laws to help guide us into the future.
Another advantage of professional news organizations is that they usually expose us to views that we sometimes question or oppose. The op-ed page of a newspaper is a great example. Did something you read there tick you off? Good!
Reading or listening to views that merely echo our beliefs doesn’t challenge them. And challenging our beliefs is critical. If our beliefs had not been challenged, we would still have slavery and women would still be barred from voting. Is that the kind of world you want to live in?
If you don’t already support a professional news organization, I urge you to do so. My wife and I like our local newspaper, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, and our public radio station, KUAC. Not only do these organizations provide us with local news, but they also give us news from around the state, nation and world. It can be overwhelming at times, but we can always choose to skip over things. And it’s better than the alternative of being spoon-fed views that are often disguised as news.
There are many other options, as well. The New York Times, CNN and The Wall Street Journal are good commercial national journalism outlets. Nonprofit outlets include organizations like ProPublica. Please support at least one.
A country full of news-blind people isn’t a truly democratic country at all. It’s just so many flocks of sheep being led wherever their shepherds want them to go. Don’t be a sheep. Stay informed and support professional journalism.
Eric Troyer is a Fairbanks-based freelance writer and volunteer. Learn more about Free Speech Week at: https://www.freespeechweek.org.