Watts: Defending The Media

Aug 29, 2017

A friend of mine recently lost her job as a reporter - a job she loved. Every day she woke up and thought about how to capture the news and bring valuable information to her readers.

She became a journalist to tell people’s stories, applying traditional news values of trust and integrity, working with sources and writing with clarity and zing.

I thought of her when President Trump pointed at rows of cameras covering a recent event in Arizona, calling the TV crews and reporters dishonest.

For much of our history, the media have played an essential role in bringing us the information that helps us understand the world. Case in point is that as the Houston disaster unfolds we turn to the media for the latest information and first hand observations – as reporters sometimes put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of accuracy and authenticity.

In the days to come, reporters will bring us emotional stories of people saved and people left behind, and we’ll hear about the causes, the decision-making, and the government response - despite the fact that twenty thousand reporters have recently lost their jobs - my friend among them.

We’ve seen a hollowing out of media coverage in the middle of the country where newspapers are closing - both large and small – and TV and radio stations are laying off reporters. Rural areas have been especially hard hit. At the same time, the phenomenon of fake news – or news that’s somebody’s made-up – is widespread and growing. One of the highest ranked fake news sites is run by a 20-year-old in Macedonia, and it’s beating out actual US news competitors. Plus, with free news sites undercutting the ability to pay journalists, the traditional funding model is unravelling.

But during this time of unprecedented attacks on journalism, it’s never been more important.

Here in Vermont we’re fortunate to still have a rich media eco-system, including eight daily newspapers, solid TV and radio reporting and a host of new digital methods for bringing us information - from podcasts to on-line investigative reporting and even long form stories.

Every day reporters, editors and publishers go about bringing us the news, broadening our world, and doing so with honesty and determination.

Democracy requires a free press and it takes dedicated and talented people - like my friend - to make it work.