Journalists are not enemies of the people, but writers for the people

By Maria Saporta

It’s no accident that the First Amendment of our nation’s Bill of Rights protected the freedom of the press and the freedom of speech. It is fundamental to our democracy and to what makes the United States special.

So it is distressing to hear President Donald Trump call the press the “enemy of the people” when the reverse is actually true.

Not surprisingly, as a full-time journalist for the past 38-plus years, I am a strong believer in the freedom of the press.

 Bill of Rights (Wikipedia)

A copy of the Bill of Rights (Wikipedia)

I have served on the board of the Atlanta Press Club for three decades because of the organization’s dedication to  our profession and to the role journalists play in our communities – locally, regionally and nationally.

And while hearing the president’s words sound like nails on chalkboard, my concern goes even deeper.

We are at a fragile time for journalism in our country. Because of economic pressures combined with shifts in readership and viewership, many traditional news organizations are vulnerable – having to cut their staff and resources.

The financial model for journalism is in a state of transition, and the casualty of that shift is having fewer trained journalists on hand to report news and inform readers and viewers of what’s going on in our society.

We have seen the demise of so many publications in recent years.

Creative Loafing is a shadow of its former self (please read Thomas Wheatley’s retrospective in Atlanta Magazine). Cox Enterprises has announced that it is exploring a possible sale of all its television stations, including Atlanta’s own WSB-TV. What is less clear is the impact such a sale would have on WSB Radio and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Cox had combined all its news and entertainment properties into the Cox Media Group – integrating all its different distribution channels as a way of making better use of the dwindling resources. At one time, the AJC had an editorial team of about 500 journalists. Last time I checked, that number is now closer to 150.

CrossRoadsNews

Graphic that appeared with the story in CrossRoadsNews announcing it would no longer have a print edition (Special: CrossRoadsNews)

And just last Friday, CrossRoadsNews, a relatively small community newspaper serving DeKalb County, announced that its most recent issue would be its last edition in print.

“It was a good run, but our time is up,” read the headline on the story by Jennifer Parker, CrossRoads’ editor and publisher. She wrote the story as a letter to readers, saying they had reached their own crossroads.

“The bottom line is that even though we have more readers today than ever, in print and online, we have not been able to generate enough revenues to make ends meet,” Parker wrote.

She went on to say: “We are not alone in this new reality. All around us, newspapers are folding because they are no longer commercially viable in the age of the internet and tariffs.”

Parker ended her letter to readers by saying: “We don’t know what the future holds, but we know that no business can stay in business if it is not making money. Neither can we.”

Jennifer Parker

Jennifer Parker

Not only is the press being attacked by the highest office in the land. But the very industry is under attack because of changing market forces.

For years now, I have half-jokingly said I want to start a nonprofit called: “Save Our Endangered Journalists.” I have worried about what our society will be like with fewer journalists practicing their craft for the benefit of society.

Many of my former AJC colleagues have moved on to other professions – many in academia, many in public relations and some have simply retired.

Fortunately, I have been able to invite several journalists to be part of SaportaReport, which surprisingly has been in business nearly a decade (we launched in February, 2009).

While I’m able to pay most of our contributors, I will be the first to admit that I’m only paying them a fraction of what they’re worth. We are exploring ways to make SaportaReport sustainable, and we are so appreciative to our Thought Leaders, Friends of SaportaReport, our advertisers and corporate sponsors for their support in helping us stay in business – even growing – when most other media outlets are shrinking.

On that note, I’m so pleased to announce two new contributors to our team – Sonam Vashi and King Williams. They are joining our team to help us spotlight the issue of housing affordability and equity in the Atlanta region. Please stay tuned.

While I am delighted we are still in business – and showing no signs of fading from the scene – I worry deeply about our profession and the void being created by having fewer working journalists.

NYC plaque

A plaque embedded on a New York City sidewalk. It is a quote by Thomas Jefferson that reads: “Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is safe” (Photo by Maria Saporta)

Where there is a void, something usually fills that void. We hope to be a constructive force in helping fill that void.

In the meantime, I wanted to join the hundreds of media outlets that have had editorials in the past week defending the rights of a free press. If we don’t stand up for a free press, who will?

My journalism mantra comes from the Greek word for journalist. The word is – dimosiografos. Dimo stands for people (think democracy) and grafos stands for writer. Journalists in Greece are referred to as “writers for the people.”

As I see it, journalists are the exact opposite of enemies of the people. We are writers for the people.

Thank you for letting us write for you.

The First Amendment of Bill of Rights:

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.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

16 replies
  1. Darkeyah Reuven says:

    OMGggg! Can we cut the BS!. The media (mainstream) has been accumulated into the hands of 5 corporations, due to Bill Clinton changing the FCC laws. So the media does NOT! represent the people, BUT! the few billionaire families which own the corporations that own all of American Media.
    THUS! To the degree these billionaires are the enemies of the American People is the degree that the mainstream media is our enemies.

    BUT! you tried to be a bit more clever and say “journalist” and not “Mainstream Media”.
    The difference is irrelevant, you HAVE!, ARE! and WILL! write and speak what your “PAYMASTERS!” bid you.

    Cut the crap.Report

    Reply
  2. Chris Johnston says:

    Maria, have you lost touch with reality or do you still wear AJC blinders?

    The mainstream media, including newspapers, have attacked President Trump nonstop for the last two years. Last week we witnessed a coordinated editorial attack in many of the major newspapers. The media don’t like it that the President retaliates after they attack him and is more effective than they are. They deserve everything he dishes out.Report

    Reply
  3. Richard Higgins says:

    Hink about a volunteer subscriber model. I know you have “Friends of…” with a Paypal donation. But I would forget to do it again. A six-month reminder? Your journalism is central to my knowledge of important nees in ATL, Especially viewed from our summer home in France.Report

    Reply
  4. Faset "Bill" Seay says:

    The real problem with journalism is that too many so-called “journalists” are merely hacks for one side or the other of the political spectrum and unable to leave their personal opinions aside and just report the news. Readers today have to go to multiple versions of the “news” to try to figure out what is really going on. Gone are the days of “…all the news that is fit to print…” and Sgt. Friday’s constant reminder of “… just the facts, ma’am, just the facts…”.Report

    Reply
  5. Power to the Pen says:

    There really is only one type of junkie who ardently spews in their rhetoric the meme of “mainstream media.” They are the ardent and credulous followers of Fox News, which is – not too ironically – a corruption of Faux News (and the media’s leader in “Fake News”).

    As the childhood meme more-aptly puts it: Those who smelt it, dealt it!Report

    Reply
  6. brainstar8 says:

    Trump and the media have a symbiotic relationship. He uses you to keep him in the world spotlight 24/7, and you use him to build viewer and readership. It’s painful to see once-respected media such as NPR prostitute itself to stay relevant, but they’re just one example of the “pay to play,” if that’s what you call it. At its very worst, media coverage counts on hate and negativity, and is willing to build it, among a percentage of the public. That’s shameful.

    If we want to be childish, we can say Trump started it. Truth is, media have exacerbated the situation, so cut the high and mighty act. As for Brennan, Comey and the rest, they have humiliated themselves, also at the hands of Donald Trump, the Showman. Brennan is a disgruntled, bitter bureaucrat whose meal ticket lost the election. She was a rotten, lazy, uninspiring, unhealthy candidate whose husband is a creep. (I am being nice here.)

    As holder of a journalism degree who also practiced the profession at one time, I am an ardent believer in free speech. It’s just that when I look around at practicing media, I don’t see them as a paragon of anything – especially not standard bearers for really good, reliable, trustworthy, accurate journalism.
    You’ve done it to yourselves.Report

    Reply
  7. jess says:

    Maria,
    Right on, good piece!
    Way better than the AJC chicken response, Ralph McGill (my old boss) must be spinning underground.
    The industry is changing, but the need for real journalism is more important than ever, so somehow journalism will prevail. If shut down by the Government, apparently the goal of our President, we will go to “samizdat” press, and/or resurrect The Great Speckled Bird.
    Glad to hear y”all are still able to “publish”!
    -30-Report

    Reply
  8. Dan says:

    Really??? When journalists actually reported news rather than shaping and interpreting events for their own agenda, maybe some of this article held a bit more true. While we still need a free media, the loss of another biased publication pushing its own agenda is hardly disastrous.Report

    Reply
  9. Tom O'Neill says:

    Had your article acknowledged that there is very little objective journalism in existence anymore, I might have agreed with you. Unfortunately, your article reflects the victimology mantra of the mainstream media when they have not delivered objective journalism for years. Give us the facts without bias or slant, let us decide. That’s journalism. There is no source of unbiased journalism in existence anymore. You all have an agenda. The “press” is corrupt just like the politicians they cover. We are not stupid.Report

    Reply
  10. Bob Peppel says:

    We must remember that the primary objective of any newspaper is to make money. Their news and editorial policy is directed toward maximizing readership. I am not a real student of newspaper history but I don’t think newspapers are that much different today from they were 150 years ago in terms of bias, sensationalism, and distortion.Report

    Reply
  11. Faset "Bill" Seay says:

    There is no inherent conflict between delivering the news and making money. Where are today’s Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Eric Severeid and Huntley/Brinkley?Report

    Reply
  12. Chris Johnston says:

    The mainstream media was in fawning mode during Clinton’s terms, except when the stench was too bad. Then it was in attack mode during Bush 43’s terms, particularly his last term. Then back to snooze and fawn modes during Obama’s terms. Niw they have been in full blown assault mode since Trump announced his candidacy.
    Their behavior is not a recent occurrence.Report

    Reply
  13. Sean Diggs says:

    You journalists are all scum that sound all a like because you are own by 5 mega corporations. You are cowards fearfull of losing a check and do nothing but spin and create controversies for your own self service, profit. All of your stupid headlines titled “X MAY or COULD or SHOULD have done this” or your “an anonymous source” proves this. you people are our enemies. and our anger is seething.Report

    Reply
  14. Greg Hodges says:

    I grew up reading the Atlanta Journal. My father would buy it (5 cents, I think) from a news vendor outside his office building on Marietta Street, and then journey the 7 miles to our home on the southside. I would spread it out on the living room carpet and read the likes of Furman Bisher, Reg Murphy, Jesse Outlar, “Piney Woods Pete”, and eventually Paul Hemphill, and even Lewis Grizzard. But by 1996, my opinion about ‘news reporting’ began to change. At the Summer Olympics, an $8 an hour security guard named Richard Jewell spied a mysterious backpack and began to quickly usher people away from it. One person was killed directly when it the backpack exploded , but scores more would have perished if nor for Jewell’s heroic actions. But all eyes became focused on Mr Jewell himself…..a writer for the AJC named Dave Kindred had already made up his mind about Jewell’s guilt and said so in the pages of the paper. Kindred compared Jewell to infamous child murderer Wayne Williams, and the smear was on. Of course the actual bomber was found and captured, Kindred had egg all over his face, and the AJC would have a lawsuit on its hands. Then there was the NYT’s Jason Blair, who wrote a number of false or plagiarized stories. More recently the Old Grey Lady hired a young Asian woman to its editorial board who had made numerous internet postings exhibiting a distain for, if not outright hatred of ‘white people’. (“How much joy I get out of being cruel to old white men.”) So much for ethical standards at the NYT. Someone mentioned the ‘fawning’ (slobbering ?)by much of the press during the Obama years. I recall Newsweek editor Evan Thomas describing the man a “Sort of God”. And of course Barbara Walters was not to be out done…..”Messiah” was the term she affixed to Obama. Certainly no bias there by these news media stars, none whatsoever. And we won’t even go to the faked George W Bush military “documents” proffered up by Dan Rather on “60 Minutes” (Some of Rather’s cohorts at the news network even contacted presidential candidate John Kerry’s election team to see if they’d like to have some of the juicy story details….just news folks try’in to be helpful, ya know.)

    Maria, I’m not sure if journalist , and others in the news media, are enemies…..most are probably fine folks….but there is no doubt that there are some who are indeed the ‘enemy’ of fairness, truthfulness, and objectivity.Report

    Reply
  15. atlman says:

    “It’s no accident that the First Amendment of our nation’s Bill of Rights protected the freedom of the press and the freedom of speech. It is fundamental to our democracy and to what makes the United States special.

    So it is distressing to hear President Donald Trump call the press the “enemy of the people” when the reverse is actually true.”

    Ummm … yeah … The first amendment includes the freedom to criticize the press. And socialists, progressives, liberals and other leftists – of which you most certainly are one – frequently criticize the press when you perceive it to be racist, sexist, biased against religious minorities, opposed to LGBTQIA, biased against labor, pro-military etc. In fact, one of the most frequent complaints about the press is that it is corporate-owned and afraid of offending subscribers and advertisers, and this has been lodged at them for decades, at least since the Viet Nam War.

    And yes, Democrat presidents have criticized the media before. Obama did. Clinton did. Carter did. Johnson did. And the media criticizes itself, the way that the mainstream media loves to gang up and pile on Fox News and talk radio. Creating campaigns to boycott and drive away advertisers from Fox News, talk radio and blog (Breitbart for example) to drive them off the air or Internet is a common pasttime.

    The left seems to think that freedom of the speech and press only applies to them. That is why columns like this fall on deaf ears.Report

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

What are your thoughts?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.