Editorial: Journalism matters
photo by: Journal-World Photo Illustration
“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.”
Much has changed in the 230-plus years since Thomas Jefferson, the father of American democracy, wrote those words in a letter to friend and fellow statesman Edward Carrington. Here’s what hasn’t changed: Newspapers continue to play a critical role in the democracy Jefferson envisioned.
National Newspaper Week kicked off on Sunday. The theme of the weeklong celebration is “Journalism matters, now more than ever.”
Much has been said about the declines in the newspaper business from the number of pages to the size of the staffs. Yet despite these declines, newspapers continue to dig deep, providing the most thorough and expansive coverage of government at the national, state and local levels.
As Jefferson understood all too well, a government without newspapers is a government without scrutiny. And a government without scrutiny is a recipe for corruption.
Fortunately, newspapers have continued to take seriously the role of watchdog at every level of government, serving as the public’s eyes and ears from the halls of Capitol Hill to Lawrence City Hall. This continues to produce remarkable investigative journalism in newspapers every day.
Some recent examples:
• Last week, the New York Times published an exhaustive look at the finances of President Donald Trump. The 18-month investigation showed that Trump, contrary to the story he has spun on the campaign trail of receiving a small loan of $1 million, actually received more than $400 million in gifts and bailouts from his father. Further, Trump and his family also may have engaged in tax fraud, the Times investigation showed.
• At the Kansas City Star, a multipart investigative series revealing the depths of secrecy in Kansas government led to legislative changes improving government transparency and public access to government records.
• And in Lawrence, Chad Lawhorn’s exhaustive look at the finances of Kansas Athletics exposed the very real financial challenges going forward for the University of Kansas and preceded changes in the athletic department, including a new athletic director and the placement on the back burner of plans for a $300 million football stadium renovation.
In an era when “fake news” has become a part of the lexicon, newspapers are every bit as vital to American democracy as they were when the democracy was founded. Join us in celebrating National Newspaper Week by purchasing, subscribing or simply reading a newspaper this week.
And remember — journalism matters, now more than ever.
Note: This editorial has been corrected to clarify the role reporting played in the changes at Kansas Athletics.