OPINION COLUMNS

The free press is under attack

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, June 30, 2018
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This column was intended to focus on media literacy.

The plan was to explain the importance of being able to identify certain aspects of media, including who created it, why it was created, what view points are being described and who is the intended audience?

Brian Knox

I was going to cite some interesting results of a recent Pew Research Center study on how well the public can accurately distinguish between what is opinion and what is fact as it relates to media reporting.

To wrap it up, I was going to try to tie in how the ability to critically analyze information from different types of media, including social media, will not only make us better informed but hopefully lead us to more civil conversations while strengthening our first amendment rights.

That’s the column I wanted to write, and I probably will one day.

But not today. I can’t.

The main thing currently weighing on the minds of journalists, particularly community newspaper journalists, is what happened to our colleagues at the Capital Gazette newspaper office in Annapolis, Md., on Thursday. A man who had a history of harassing the paper walked into the newspaper office and opened fire, killing five employees and injuring several more.

It was just the latest in what is becoming an all-too-common mass shooting event.

We hurt the same way that officers hurt when one of their own is killed in an ambush attack while on patrol, or how school employees feel each time they hear the grim news of a school shooting.

It hurts because we know exactly what it is like in those ordinary moments just before something tragic happens, and we hope to God we never know what it feels like to experience those next few moments.

While it is too early to know exactly what motivated the suspect to carry out his premeditated murder of journalists, we can’t ignore the current climate in which the events took place.

What could have emboldened this man to take the action that he did? What pushed this demented fantasy in this man’s mind over the line into horrible reality?

Is it because journalists have repeatedly been called “enemies of the American people” by our president?

Is it making light of people wearing shirts to political rallies that read, “Rope, tree, journalist. Some assembly required?”

Is it online far-right pundits calling for vigilantes to start gunning down journalists, as one did just a few days ago?

I don’t have the answer.

All I know is that any attack on journalists for the job they do is an attack on the first amendment freedoms of our nation.

Every journalist knows the feeling of being verbally attacked over something they’ve reported. I learned a long time ago that many times, the people are more upset about the circumstances of the event being reported rather than the reporting itself. In those cases, I let them have their say and try not to get pulled into an argument that I know neither of us would win. By not adding oxygen to the fire, the flame eventually goes out.

But in my nearly 20 years in journalism, I can also say from first-hand experience that the problems are getting worse. I’ve had threats of physical violence aimed at me in the past couple of years – threats serious enough that I’ve had to file a police report.

I’m not the only one. Another reporter was the recent target of a threat of violence on social media simply for doing his job.

You do what anyone would do in those situations. You take extra care to survey your surroundings everywhere you go. You mix up the route you drive to your home. You keep an eye peeled for anyone who might be following you.

As Thursday reminded all of us, it’s become a necessary part of the job.

If you are shocked and appalled by what happened in Maryland Thursday, there’s plenty you could do. First, you can donate to a Go Fund Me fundraiser page named “Help Capital Gazette Journalists.”

If you want to support local journalism, buy a subscription to a paper – any paper, not just this one. Or contact your representatives in congress to demand that President Trump end his recently-enacted tariff on Canadian newsprint that is forcing many larger papers to lay off large numbers of staff members and smaller papers to close their doors due to the resulting skyrocketing cost of newsprint.

If nothing else, keep reading this paper. I’ve still got some thoughts on media literacy I’d like to share sometime.

Brian Knox is the special projects editor for the Messenger.

One Response to “The free press is under attack”

  1. Brian, thank you for this well-written, heartfelt op-ed. My father was a journalist & editor for the San Diego Union after World War II. He would be shocked to see the way journalists have been portrayed by some in politics in recent years. It’s no surprise that there’s a portion of the population who believes the tirades against the press. As the pronouncements have become more threatening, I suppose it was just a matter of time before a mass shooting took place at a newspaper office.

    I always thought everyone accepted that real journalists try to write as accurately & fairly as possible. They don’t fabricate stories or embellish them with their own opinions. They often present different viewpoints. If they make a mistake or discover an omission in an article, they write a correction or an update. Still, some people don’t believe the honest press’ account of many stories, & instead seek out reports that agree with their own preconceived ideas. Perhaps those people need to search the internet for “Journalism Principles, Ethics, & Standards”. It might teach them how to distinguish between good reporting & what is just someone’s uninformed opinion.

    I subscribe to two newspapers: Wise County Messenger (delivered & online) & a national newspaper (online). I also watch a variety of broadcast news sources that I believe together give me an accurate portrayal of current events worldwide. I can’t imagine my life without such information.

    I understand your grief because of what happened in Annapolis. I’m very sorry you & many other journalists have been targeted by threats & even violence – that should never happen.

    However, please don’t wait too long to write the column you had intended to write before the tragedy at the Capital Gazette. Your brief description of the various aspects of “media literacy”, as well as your writing in this and other columns, make me optimistic that you can explain the subject in a way all of us can appreciate.

    Thanks for your excellent work. I look forward to reading more of your pieces in the Messenger.

    Leslie Olsson
    Alvord, TX

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