Local journalists are reckoning with a new reality: The greatest threat to working in journalism is public contempt for us as a workforce.
Once diplomatic dislike for our work from some viewers, listeners and readers has grown to a substantial loss of trust in the media. This crisis of trust has opened the door to bitter hatred and unchecked physical provocation. In 2018 alone, the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker reported 42 journalists were physically attacked and five were killed simply for working to keep their communities informed.
I believe journalists should be able to go to work without fear of being attacked or intimidated. In addition to providing training on increased safety measures, we need legislative action to ensure violence is not an acceptable form of criticism and to penalize those who recklessly interfere in efforts to seek and report the truth on behalf of the public.
In addition to advocating for journalists on a federal level, we are working in conjunction with members on state legislation that will not only keep local journalists safe, but will also place the civic good above the authority of those in power who are often steadfast in their efforts to keep their business secret from the very public they serve.
In South Dakota, we have worked to help draft a shield law to allow journalists to protect information and sources. The bill was approved by House lawmakers and is now headed to the state’s Senate. We applaud Gov. Kristi Noem who pushed for this law in one of the few remaining states that have not taken this protective step. We also encourage South Dakota’s state senators to pass the measure.
In Montana, we have vigorously supported state Rep. Tom Woods’ bill that would increase tenfold the penalty for assaulting a journalist. Our support of this bill is an effort to stand up for reporters like the Guardian’s Ben Jacobs who was physically assaulted by then-congressional candidate Greg Gianforte in 2017. Reporters should never fear physical abuses of power.
In Missouri, we are standing up for the state’s Sunshine Law that protects the public’s ability to ask for information from government agencies. Hiding behind taxpayer burden, legislators are in the process of stripping one of the strongest open records laws in the country. This is in stark contrast to the “Clean Missouri” constitutional amendment overwhelmingly approved by voters in November that demands the state legislature to be more transparent.
More action in states across the country is coming.
As journalists, we are taught to seek and report the truth no matter the personal cost. For too long we’ve kept our heads down, producing stories that have the power to change the narrative in local communities and shine light on abuses of power. But we haven’t defended the job we do in the court of public opinion.
While we know Americans don’t trust the “media” broadly, research shows more Americans across the political spectrum trust their local news outlets more than other sources of information. We know our members are working hard to keep the public’s trust through truthful reporting, more transparency and doubling down on responsible investigative reporting that often serves as a catalyst for positive change.
To support your efforts, we are taking decisive action to strengthen laws that protect journalists from being positioned as the enemy of the people, and demanding enforcement of legislation that is already in place to facilitate responsible journalism on behalf of the people.
The American public deserves nothing less.