‘First they came for the journalists’
This month marks four years since the Tribune Chronicle took over publication of The Vindicator after its previous owners announced the operation would cease.
At the time, The Vindicator’s former owners said the decision to shutter the Mahoning County-based newspaper came after operating in the red for some 20 years.
The loss of the newspaper — the valued fourth estate, so critical to a democracy in which the government is accountable to the people — would have been a horrible blow to our area.
Recently, I’ve reflected a lot on that day, Sept. 1, 2019, thinking about where we’ve come and how it even has been possible.
I’m proud of that fact that, with the help of an extremely hard-working staff shared between our two Mahoning Valley daily newspapers, we have kept both the Tribune Chronicle and The Vindicator alive and thriving.
I believe that comes in part because we understand what makes us valuable to our readership and direct our resources there. We do not pretend to be a big metropolitan daily. Rather, we focus on what our readers cannot get anywhere else in the world in print — community news, sports and features about our Mahoning Valley.
We report on local elections by sending out questionnaires to candidates and interviewing many of them to provide the information readers need before voting.
We cover your local government meetings to keep you informed about where your money is being spent, and hold your
elected officials accountable.
We report on crime in your community, along with all the good news about entertainment or religion and, sadly, death notices of your neighbors. And with our opinion pages, we give our readers a voice.
It’s all incredibly important.
Sadly, though, increasingly more communities no longer have the benefit of a local newspaper. And often those that remain are perceived as weak and subjected to bullying attempts to silence it.
Consider the Aug. 11 police raid on the Marion County (Kansas) Record and on the home of its editor.
That’s the small weekly paper where officers seized computers, cellphones and documents in what I can describe only as dangerous police overreach, running counter to federal law and First Amendment guarantees of press freedom.
In a column last year, national syndicated writer Bonnie Jean Feldkamp lamented the future of local journalism. She expressed her daily mission of lifting voices of her community with the intention of elevating the conversations important to her city.
Feldkamp so eloquently wrote about the value and struggles of operating a daily newspaper that I thought it worthy of sharing.
“The people I work with do this job because they love this community. They love it enough to engage with the public and get yelled at during public forums because the newspaper isn’t what it used to be. The writers and editors here care enough to challenge every word that is written internally before it lands in print because they know our valuable resources are shrinking and we must choose wisely where we dedicate our time.”
Feldkamp also said this: “Local news matters. Our local elections matter. Our local school districts matter. Our health care resources matter. Our indigent populations matter. Our police reforms matter.
“All of the issues every city grapples with are worthy of a team of journalists who act as the eyes and ears of this democracy.”
She continued: “We’re being eaten from the inside. Journalism is not valued by those who wish to hold on to wealth and power. Capitalism doesn’t bode well for journalism. It’s a civic duty, but the government can’t have control either. Journalism must be funded somehow, some way by a public that values what the profession offers. We must be able to write the stories that lift our community while also holding those in power to account so that those employed to run our cities, counties, states and country do so in the name of what the people have said they wanted.”
She ended her thoughts this way: “Without a robust journalism infrastructure, how does the public learn? What will they really know? I fear we will soon find out.”
We must never find out.
I don’t know who first said it, but it comes to mind now: “First, they came for the journalists. We don’t know what happened after that.”