Reflections on a free press…

July 4, 2011 — Reposted to Alchemy
Originally published as Guest Commentary: Why is it always bad news? – The Denver Posthttp://www.denverpost.com/opinion/ci_18513328

When I was younger and out to change the world, I participated in a yearlong leadership program in southern Colorado. We were up-and-comers introduced through the program to the workings of society — visiting hospitals, jails, soup kitchens, and shelters. Once a month, we spent a day exploring a topic germane to running a city.

On the day dedicated to government, we met with a panel of city and county officials where the dialog inevitably came around to a familiar lament: “Why does the media only publish bad news?” Then, as now, times weren’t all that prosperous around the state. Elected and appointed officials, as well as their counterparts in business and economic development, were concerned that bad press was keeping companies from relocating in Colorado, deterring skilled workers, and actually contributing to job loss. So, they mused, “Maybe the press ought to report only the good stuff.”

What they were saying about negative publicity was probably true; Colorado was on a rough economic ride then and I agreed that continual news about record home foreclosures and a high-tech industry collapse wasn’t painting a very pretty picture. It was the solution they were discussing that sparked my actions that afternoon.

At the end of our leadership experience each month, the class voted for the person who had shown the most positive leadership on any particular day. I still feel a glow of pleasure that I was chosen on that government day.

Our leadership class was meeting in the County Commissioners’ theater-type setting, with the panel on the brightly lit platform at the bottom. From a row higher up in the darkened auditorium, I suddenly jumped up from my seat and turned sideways to address both my colleagues and the panel, expressing genuine alarm at the prospect of limiting-in any way-the freedom of the press.

I wasn’t talking then about information outside the bounds of accurate reporting and good taste, and I’m not talking about it now, although these boundaries keep shifting not only for the media, but also for our global society.

I was fiercely defending a fundamental freedom that too few nations enjoy; a freedom that is suppressed violently in despotic states; yet a freedom that continually guarantees citizens in our democratic society access to the truth.

I’m not naïve; shock jocks, program hosts with fanatical followers, and the ever-present sound bites make it more difficult than ever for consumers of the news to find and discern the truth-truth filtered by the perspectives of the people reporting it, yes, but the truth nevertheless.”

I passionately shared all this with my colleagues and guest speakers on government day; however, the only concrete detail I remember is a reference to the number of Imelda’s shoes: a big story at the time that ultimately became iconic for the excesses of the Marcos regime in the Philippines. What followed was my declaration that we — in county commissioners’ chambers in Colorado — knew more about what was happening halfway around the world than the people who lived there. Then I sat down; I believe there was applause.

Today, I’m still out to change the world. I’m still standing up for freedom of the press, and I still get alarmed when someone proposes we should “do something” about the media.

No one — no one — has the right to tell the media what news they “ought” to report. I understand that all professions, all professionals have their foibles, their falsities, and even their outright failures; many come quickly to mind about the media.

However, I stood up that day for freedom of the press, and I stand up for a free press today. Will you stand up with me? I think I hear applause.

A little more about the author…
Andrea W. Doray is a Denver-based freelance writer, blogger, and free-press advocate. Doray champions literacy, plain language, free speech, and funny stories. She may be reached at a.doray@andreadoray.com.
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