June 1st, 2010
Day 35: Crossroads of America – and journalism
By David Cuillier
So far: 24 states, 10,095 miles, 43 sessions, 770 people (see schedule)
Cincinnati, Ohio — Today as I reached the tour’s crossroads (the middle of the figure-8 for the tour route – I drove past here May 14 on the way from Detroit to Louisville), I realized that we too, in journalism, are at a crossroads.
That was hit home at dinner tonight with Hagit Limor, SPJ national president-elect and investigative reporter for WCPO-TV, and James Pilcher, president of the Cincinnati SPJ pro chapter. Hagit said this is a crucial time for journalists – and it’s important to get the message out that our survival is essential to protecting democracy.
She is so right.
Thanks to TV shows and movies, the average person perceives journalists as out to sell papers and uncover dirt for some perverse sadistic jollies. Most people don’t realize that we go into this biz to make the world better, that we put up with low pay, bad hours, unappreciative sources/readers/bosses, and high stress because we believe in what we do. We protect democracy.
In a way, journalists are true freedom fighters. And many of us pay the ultimate sacrifice, like soldiers. On this day, Memorial Day, I say we honor fallen journalists as well as fallen soldiers. Here are some stats, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists:
- 15 journalists have been killed so far this year in the world.
- 813 killed since 1992.
- 35 are imprisoned in Iran.
Tip No. 45: Check out the atrocities toward the press at the CPJ website and remember what we are fighting for – keeping our country from going down the same path as those countries. Most journalist deaths aren’t in the U.S. They are in Iraq, Mexico, Africa, Pakistan, etc. Deaths do happen here, and when they do we often rally. Don Bolles’ death in Phoenix on June 13, 1976, led to the formation of Investigative Reporters and Editors. Oakland (Calif.) Post editor Chauncey Bailey’s death in 2007 led to an incredible investigative project online (great document work). When you argue for open police records, in addition to arguing on behalf of citizens who want to know what crimes are happening in their neighborhoods, argue that transparent law enforcement is necessary to prevent abuses of excessive force, brutality, and intimidation of political foes. THAT is why we need openness and a strong press. Without that we head down the same path as those other countries where press rights are trampled and citizen liberties squashed.
So yes, journalism is at a crossroads as far as economic models, but one thing we cannot let go in all this is the importance of a strong Fourth Estate to hold those in power accountable and keep government open. That is what the founding fathers intended, for democracy to work. Hagit and others at SPJ know this to be true, and want to promote the cause. If we do not, who will? Hold the line on transparency!
Tuesday: I’ll talk to the Cincinnati SPJ pro chapter at noon and then the Cleveland pro chapter at 7 p.m. About 10 days left of the tour. Still going strong!