Threats to Freedom of the Press Are Real

Journalists across the country are wringing their hands about how they might have enabled, or at least tolerated, the rise of an impulsive, would-be strongman in Washington. Donald Trump has plainly pledged to sue journalists for offending him, blacklist reporters from access to government sources and public records, break up media companies that question his policies and crack down on protesters.

The election has accelerated conversation about the meaning of the philosophically fraught term “objectivity.” In the new political era, taking that word too literally clearly risks coming in conflict with other principles we hold dear: free speech, the rule of law, the public’s right to know and the democratic process itself.

The Public Press has always abided by a nonpartisan, nonadvocacy stance — one we intend to maintain. At the same time, the changing tenor of the national political debate has encouraged us to reconnect with and reaffirm what we think of as a “pro-public” bias.

We believe, too, that journalists have a responsibility not just to tell the truth, however much it makes us uncomfortable, but also to facilitate conversation around solutions to common problems. Though the challenges may be great, and many people are likely to be hurt in the conflicts to come, the need for empowerment and engagement in politics and public life is perhaps greater than it was before the election.

We are planning, in the coming year, to launch new investigations that question those in positions of power and give voice to the voiceless. National and local policies are inextricably linked, and local journalism is all the more needed today — to expose problems and conflicts as they happen, document societal and economic changes, and expand the range of perspectives considered seriously by policymakers.

But that will not be enough. The ascension of Trump and his anti-First Amendment fellow travelers sharpens the responsibility of the press to call out abuse of power and any hint of a drift toward autocracy. As local journalists we must be vigilant in defending the public’s right to know — even when that requires open defiance of the power structure.

To do this, we need your help. Donating to the Public Press is a way to affirm your commitment to a free, independent and responsible press that can serve as a bulwark against chill winds that may blow west from Washington as well as homegrown dysfunction in government and the private sector.

Thank you for your support.

Sincerely,

Michael Stoll, executive director
Lila LaHood, publisher