By RUSTY CUNNINGHAM
Editor, La Crosse Tribune
Executive Editor, River Valley Media Group
LA CROSSE, Wis. — “…Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
–Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States of America, 1787
Not every U.S. president has agreed with Jefferson about the importance of journalism, of course.
Canadian journalists battle for press freedoms every day, too.
But as journalists, we share a passion, a mission, a quest.
We search for the truth as watchdogs of the people elected and appointed to serve our citizenry.
As journalists, we’re trained to keep a professional distance, to make sure we don’t become part of the story.
But while we’re not the story as reporters, the importance of our work, our craft is very much the story – especially as President Trump calls journalists the “enemy of the American people.”
Our theme is right on the mark: “Journalism matters. NOW more than ever.”
While we’re not the story, the need for our journalism has never been more important to the people and communities we serve.
It has never been more important for journalists to ask questions, scour public records and investigate malfeasance.
It has never been more important for journalists to expose corruption, challenge assumptions and shine a light on sexual misconduct.
As journalists along the Mississippi River in Wisconsin, we’ve asked in recent months what chemicals were contained in a 10-million-gallon spill floating down a tributary. We’ve asked about a drastic increase in overdose deaths. We’ve asked why no criminal charges were filed in a boating accident in which two people died.
You have your own stories to tell about the questions you ask and the journalism you produce.
Make no mistake: Your journalism matters.
It’s crucial that we continue to reinforce the importance of our role in society.
And we’re not just watchdogs. Our journalism encourages our readers with positive stories that truly reflect the flavor of our communities.
Rest assured, your journalism has never been more important.
This column is being published in observance of National Newspaper Week and was previously written on behalf of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association for journalists in Canada. Rusty Cunningham is editor of the La Crosse Tribune and executive editor of the River Valley Media Group.