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In New York, in the lobby of the hall at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University that bears his name, sits a plaque of a quote recorded in 1904 by the newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer. It says: “Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together.”
Its beginning is succinct, and is representative of American journalism’s role in a functioning democracy.
President Trump has brought the role of journalists and the media into question. Though conflict between politicians and the media is the globally established norm, journalism is entering new territory, as day after day the words fake news and post-truth become part of the English lexicon, either in print, in broadcast, or online.
Fake news, whether disagreeing with the content or publisher of an article, drives a negative connotation to those working in the industry. It also casts fear, doubt and anxiety among new career and student journalists. The events of the past week have added to that angst, from a press conference at the White House and interviews on Trump’s policies here and abroad with key advisers, to Trump’s tweets.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 17, 2017
Journalists are synonymous with the foundations of democracy. The First Amendment is at the heart of this foundation. We are not enemies, we are citizens exactly like each ordinary citizen who gets up every day and do what they need to do. We enter this industry not to seek fame or fortune, but to benefit the common good by informing, engaging and stimulating our communities, our country and our world.
NPR host Steve Inskeep put it like this on Twitter.
A journalist is a citizen. Who informs other citizens, as free citizens need. Some are killed doing it. I’m grateful to many who inform me.
— Steve Inskeep (@NPRinskeep) February 17, 2017
We as journalists have a responsibility to ensure that the rights given to our fellow citizens continue – that the guaranteed freedom of the press does not fall dormant.
There’s a simple way to do that. Encourage your friends to subscribe to get a digital subscription of a newspaper, donate to your public TV or radio station, or buy a newspaper to have with a cup of morning coffee. You do it too.
Along the way, encourage the public to become SPJ supporters and show their support for quality journalism.
It may not be much, but the investment matters. The public isn’t investing in a brand or an organization when they subscribe – instead, they’re investing in their neighbors, classmates, colleagues, friends, spouses or family members. They’re also investing in their fellow citizens who get up and go to work knowing the only thing journalists answer to is truth.
I believe that if something is worth doing, you do it well. Good, ethical journalism cannot happen without members of the public. They call on us to seek truth and report it, to help them make sense of the world, and to help in their daily lives.
After all, as the famous editor C.P. Scott once said: “Comment is free, but facts are sacred.”
So this holiday weekend, take some time and illuminate the world for your fellow citizens. Encourage them to just click subscribe.
Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member, is a member of SPJ’s Ethics Committee and a contributor to the SPJ blog network.
The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.
Defending the First Amendment and promoting open government are more crucial now than ever. Join SPJ's fight for the publics right to know either as an SPJ Supporter or a professional, student or retired journalist.