It’s a sad day for journalists everywhere when a newspaper publishes something which they admit is illegal and justify it by saying it is not unethical. I’m sorry but if it is illegal, then it is also unethical. The illegal publishing of Donald Trump’s tax return by the New York Times, comes just as we in the newspaper industry celebrate National Newspaper Week — October 2-8.
As a community journalist, I have long since distanced myself from the mainstream media but I have never been more disappointed in the field than after this illegal publication. It wouldn’t matter what it was, tax returns or some other matter involving anyone else, illegal means illegal. It doesn’t matter whether or not they did not illegally acquire them. Supposedly, the 1995 tax returns just showed up in a reporter’s mailbox.
Personally, I don’t care about Trump’s tax returns or anyone else’s for that matter. All business people do what they can to avoid paying as much tax as possible, even us lowly citizens. I know I take the deductions which I can legally. I want to know what the candidate can do for the country and the issues we are having and the problems we face.
What I do care about is the current blatant disrespect of the code of ethics all journalists know and should be abiding by in their reporting. One of those is “be accountable”. Today’s mainstream media is not accountable. They have their own agenda and it seems they are bought and sold by politicians. They pick and choose what news will go viral by the current trend of what upsets the masses and they are contributing to the racial divide and hate which is overtaking our country. Yet, they do not take any responsibility. They are not being held accountable.
The power of the press was to keep people informed and rally them to action when injustices were done, especially involving the government spending tax monies. That power rests in holding government accountable, to rally public opinion on those issues which matter to them, the community or our country and to provide valuable information.
As journalists we just can’t report on those things which make us feel good, involve celebrities, or those things which we believe will go viral. Our credibility is on the line with every issue we publish.
In today’s world of social media and mobile devices, we have a watered down and sometimes downright unfactual news mentality. Or we want to hear about the latest celebrity divorce and won’t take the time to read about the key issues. We believe everything we read, especially if it’s negative or puts things in a bad light. We don’t take the time to do the research to ensure what we are reading is truth or fiction.
In reality, our world still needs the facts we can report. The age of reality TV, has softened our minds and taken away our ability to deeply think things through.
Yes, changes have come to the newspaper industry and papers like The Georgia Post are struggling to try and integrate those changes without losing credibility and incurring higher costs on an already stretched thin budget. We’ve cut expenses and staff but still try to cover as much as humanly possible. We have to rely more on the community to help us stay abreast of everything that’s going on in the communities we serve.
We love the feel good stories about people and their accomplishments, but we also have to report on those government meetings which are sometimes long and boring and some where nothing beneficial is done that can be reported. We struggle to do things in new ways and to report those things which citizens in the community want to know, whether or not the powers that be like it. And sometimes they don’t like it because it shows them in a bad light or they realize what they said at the time, probably was not the right thing.
In today’s society it is a challenge to overcome apathy in the things that matter, along with a lack of knowledge of what goes on in the community. People prefer the surreal and the sensational, rather than the true facts at times because it gives them something to talk about. This makes credibility and accountability even more paramount as we do our jobs in the community.
Without journalists keeping watch on government, it would run amok, even more so than they already try to do these days. They already try to skirt open records laws. With few, if any citizens in attendance at most of these meetings, the press must be diligent in covering and reporting on them.
There is no illusion here on what or why we do what we do. Your newspaper, as I have always said is a living history of your community, the good, the bad and the ugly. The back issues give insight into life at a particular period in the community’s history. You can get to know your community pretty well by picking up a copy of the local newspaper. Same goes for when you visit another community; pick up a newspaper and you will gain insight into life there.
We do take pride in what we do and we celebrate that this week, National Newspaper Week. We strive to be fair, accurate and unbiased. And sometimes we do make mistakes. We hope that you too can feel proud of your community newspaper. Thank you to our loyal readers and the community, for it is for you we do this every week. And thanks to my staff who gives it their best shot every week and takes the power of the press seriously. ©2016
VICTORIA SIMMONS is an author, columnist, motivational speaker, minister and publisher of The Georgia Post/Byron Buzz. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org