This blog post is part of a project called Democracy Day, in which newsrooms across the country are shining a light on threats to democracy and what action is needed to protect it.
When I chose to be a journalist years ago, I was drawn to the craft because it gave me permission – and in fact a mandate – to hold people to account and to look out for those less fortunate. I could do that because we live in a democracy: a democracy that relies on the media to shine a light in the dark corners of government, to protect our communities and our way of life.
Why this matters
inewsource is joining journalists across the country for a project called Democracy Day to shine a light on ongoing anti-democratic efforts and what can be done to stop them.
But there is a reason inewsource is participating in Democracy Day with newsrooms across the country today. “Now more than ever,” the United Nations declared, “Democracy is backsliding, civic space is shrinking, distrust, mis- and disinformation are growing while threats to the freedom of journalists and media workers are expanding by the day.”
Just last month, national polls revealed that the current threats to our democracy are the American public’s number one concern. More so than the floundering economy, the climate crisis and the loss of individual rights.
When I think back to my work on the high school newspaper, I believed journalism was a high calling. I have never lost respect for its power. We have grave responsibilities to get at the facts and deliver the truth – with the honesty to tell you what we don’t know along with what we know.
Michael Bolden, the CEO of the American Press Institute, emphasizes that it is our democracy that gives journalists the freedom to do their work. He points out that Section 12 of The Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776 said, “the freedom of the Press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic Governments.”
Restraints exist across the globe and increasingly here at home.
Reporters Without Borders calls journalism “the main vaccine against disinformation.” In its 2021 World Press Freedom Index the organization found that journalism is completely or partly blocked in 73% of the 180 countries it ranked.
Before you dismiss that statistic – thinking it’s some other country’s problem – think again. The index ranked the U.S. 44th with “a record number of assaults and arrests of members of the media.” In 2020, the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker logged a record-breaking 144 arrests of journalists and 629 assaults, including a number here in San Diego County.
Less than two weeks ago, a journalist was murdered in Las Vegas and a government official, who was the subject of the reporter’s investigations, has been arrested. In Mexico, so close to home, more than 150 journalists have been killed since 2000, making that country one of the most deadly for journalists anywhere.
Then, consider this: from 2008 to 2020, the nation’s newsrooms shed more than a quarter of their workforce.
Yes, there is a crisis in confidence in the media. Public trust is at an all-time low. And for many good reasons. The media today is broadly defined and newscasts and news reports are riddled with analysis and opinion. There is a media outlet to cater to every political bent and bubble, but just as insidious is the growth of outright lies and misinformation flooding the internet, social media, and perhaps your inbox.
Then there are those of us who just want to offer the facts and let a more informed public reach their own conclusions. To help you make wise decisions at the ballot box and in your daily lives.
When I started inewsource 13 years ago, that was my goal. I never doubted that I could do it, nor that it was allowed, because we live in the greatest democracy in the world.
Since we started publishing, many of you have relied on us for the facts you’ve needed to make your voices heard at city halls and school boards throughout the county. inewsource works hard to equip you. And to be transparent in the process. Our results speak for themselves.
So here is my advice on this Democracy Day. Don’t lose faith in journalists. We are doing our best to honor the freedom and protection this country affords us.
But be skeptical before spreading the “news.” Hold us to account. If a media outlet says, “Trust Us.” Ask why? What are their principles and policies? What is their commitment to transparency? How well do they listen to you and your neighbors?
Above all, I hope you will accept and support the vital role a free press plays in a thriving democracy. The two are intricately linked. Our democracy and the health of our communities depend on it.
— Lorie Hearn
inewsource CEO, editor and founder