My plan for this article was to focus on a couple of anniversaries celebrated recently. But as I sat down to write it, my mind was overcome with the thought that I might miss an opportunity to weigh in on one of the most pressing issues of our time, pun intended. That issue is of the free press and the First Amendment of the Constitution.
So let me get a couple of those items out of the way before I opine on the state of our union.
Last month, The Independent celebrated 21 years in print. Who knew we’d make it this far when the four founders hatched a plan to create “The Revolution,” as the Independent was originally called, way back in 1996? I certainly did not. I was 19 years old, idealistic, optimistic, and motivated to create a new voice connecting the burgeoning arts and entertainment communities of southern Utah with their audiences. Not only did we do just that, but in 21 years we’ve grown The Independent into an entity that itself entertains, enlightens and inspires. We’ve also been instrumental in shining light on some critical happenings in the local social and political scenes. Last year, we were the tip of the spear in reporting the developments of the Varlo Davenport case.
I also was present for and a legal witness to the first same-sex marriage in southern Utah in December of 2013, for which I am very grateful.
After 21 years, The Independent still produces the most complete and accurate calendar of events for the area, both in print and online. We’ve also promoted and sponsored countless events and performances, and for that I am very proud.
Unrelated, I personally celebrated 25 years as a vegan this last month, a fact many of you probably were not aware of. I don’t wear it on my sleeve (as some vegans do), but I am deeply reassured that it has led me on the path I am on today. That is, since I was 15 years old, I have worked to respect all life (yes, I take spiders outside). This stance, taken to its end, has reinforced my respect for our environment, the land, and the plants and animals who inhabit it.
So now on to a more serious topic. The First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
President Donald Trump has made it no secret he is not a fan of the press. He’s taken up the narrative that the “mainstream media” is filled with liars and purveyors of “fake news.” I’m going to have to disagree with that assessment. While, as I mentioned in my last article, we all have implicit biases, every reporter I have ever met and their editors and publishers are after the truth, plain and simple. The first line of the mission statement of the Society of Professional Journalists reads, “The Society of Professional Journalists is dedicated to the perpetuation of a free press as the cornerstone of our nation and our liberty.” it continues, “It is the role of journalists to provide this information in an accurate, comprehensive, timely and understandable manner.” This credo is at the core of every good news organization. Do reporters sometimes make mistakes, infer conclusions without concrete facts, or focus their limited resources on areas or parts of a story they find more interesting than others? Certainly. But that’s not “fake news.”
“Fake news websites (also referred to as hoax news) deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda, and disinformation purporting to be real news — often using social media to drive web traffic and amplify their effect.” That’s the definition given on Wikipedia.com, and please forgive me citing Wikipedia, but as a modern phenomena, I couldn’t find it in Webster’s dictionary online.
Not long ago, President Trump barred CNN, The New York Times, and a handful of other reputable news sources from a press gaggle in the White House. The New York Times. An institution founded in 1851 and the winner of 119 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other news organization ever. He also called them fake news via Twitter. This was terribly insulting to both them and to the American public and a bad sign of what may come from the Trump administration.
I can only imagine the level of insult against the Fourth Estate Trump’s White House is capable of.
As the owner of an independent, local publication, I am motivated more than ever to continue to provide accurate and truthful reporting in addition to the arts and entertainment coverage we’re best known for.
Although as a local newspaper we aren’t tasked with covering the goings-on of our national elected leaders, we do have responsibility to cover what we can at the local and state levels as well as opine on their impact on us citizens. For over two decades, we’ve worked to be an open forum for political and social discussions, and we will now push forward with an increased interest in reporting corruption, action, and inaction of our local and regional politicians in the interest of an informed citizenry.
Although we may have limited resources, we’ll do what we can to keep you informed on important stories. And I implore you to help with this cause. If you know of something you think the public should be aware of, please shoot an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, consider writing a guest opinion piece, or submit a letter to the editor. All can be done to that same email. If you’re a writer and you want to get published, please contact us. What we can offer is a professional editing staff and a large audience.
Thank you all for reading these 21 years. Be well.