Column: Our protection in the press is a fundamental freedom

From the Bluefield Daily Telegraph:

By Larry Hypes

I have been in and out of the newsroom here at the daily paper for more than 40 years and I can tell you that I have never known a reporter to intentionally misrepre-

What has it been – 58 days since the presidential inauguration? Since the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, with its famed “100 days” of action to begin, that has become a traditional calendar measure of how the new chief executive’s agenda is likely to be focused.

In this column the week after our 45th president took office, I said we should give him a chance to get through that roughly three month period before either praising or complaining. It has certainly been interesting, but I am willing to wait a few more weeks before making too many comments.

West Virginians, too, are in a somewhat “wait and see” mode right now with the new governor and state Legislature in session. Talk of compromise is always hopeful and usually countered by stories that one side or the other is prepared to “dig in its heels” over the best way to go.

That always translates into money, of course. Theory and principle and vision must be paid for – or not. It has happened before so many times but in today’s world our communication is so instant that we know more than ever about what goes on within the hour in our legislative halls.

As a sometime journalist, the one thing that I always look toward as our protection is a free press that is allowed to do its job. Suppression of the news is one of the most scary propositions I can imagine. Down through the ages, far better and wiser folk than I have felt the same.

Thomas Jefferson was in Paris when he wrote to Continental Congress delegate Edward Carrington and said, “If I had to choose between a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate to prefer the latter.” An astute observer of the human condition, Jefferson understood that any government, even one as finely balanced as the American democracy, if left unchecked without anyone to report on it, could become as a wolf among the sheep.

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In last Wednesday’s edition of the Daily Telegraph, Bill Ketter, who is senior vice president of news for the company which owns this paper, penned a very thoughtful column about the importance of the press in a free country. Rather than quoting Jefferson, Mr. Ketter referred to James Madison, who wrote the First Amendment to the Constitution. Ketter noted that Madison and his contemporaries had lived through tyranny and wanted to make certain that a free press, which could represent the public, was always on guard to hold officials accountable for their actions.

That is truly important for all us. The “average citizen,” and who knows exactly what that means, must live and work to provide for family and so must depend upon those who gather news to keep them informed about the work of government.

And it is very important to remember that not all politicians are crooks. We must not think that. In fact, many of us – me included – would not be able to do their jobs nearly as well.

I have noticed something similar in ball games, believe it or not. Many fans who criticize referees have not ever held the whistle themselves. Watching a game from the seats is not nearly the same as viewing at eye level, at game speed, where instant decisions must be made.

The old saying that “it takes a person years to learn a trade but critics come ready made” is easy to say but hard to abide by.

In the meantime, I do trust our journalists to do their jobs, from our writers here at theTelegraph to our friends at WVVA and right on up the line. Sure, there are some who cross boundaries but we are, after all, human. That does not mean we should stop all criticism but we should temper it with common sense. It is always easier to mete out judgment than mercy.

I must admit that I roll my eyes at what tabloids or sensational magazines print just to sell copies but that is not actual journalism. About all of that type material I ever see is a cover headline from the grocery store aisle. I never actually pick those things up, figuring everyone recognizes what that type of story is written for.

But real news – the truth – is our safeguard. All of us, one and all, need honest coverage and from my years working around here, I fully believe your local news people and the majority in the national media, present the facts. I have been in and out of the newsroom here at the daily paper for more than 40 years and I can tell you that I have never known a reporter to intentionally misrepresent the facts.

You must keep in mind that columns and editorials and letters to the editor are opinion and serve a great purpose, too. We must be allowed to vent our feelings sometimes even if it comes from the heart and not always from the head.

Every now and then I hear that teachers are over paid. Many say that highway employees don’t earn their wages. Critics argue that the police are out to get us. I do not believe that is true, except in isolated cases, and when it happens, the free press in this country lets us know about it.

I hope you think so, too.

— Larry Hypes, a teacher at Bluefield High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.

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