Journalism and democracy are undeniably intertwined. Their relationship could be described as reciprocal; some might even go so far as to say co-dependent. But as the late media critic and journalism instructor James Carey put it, the truth is, they are one and the same:
“No journalism, no democracy; but, equally, no democracy, no journalism. Journalism and democracy are names for the same thing.”
He furthered that when one falters, the other does as well. If journalism’s mere existence depends on democracy, then by rights, journalists must defend it. Carey knew this idea challenges the entrenched concept that journalism must be independent and objective, that journalists can’t take a stand, but Carey had it right. When you get down to it, when you pull away all the trappings of what media has become, what matters in journalism is helping the fragile institution that is democracy retain its hold.
Why democracy? Because every human is born equal and every effort should be made to create government that protects this inalienable truth.
Our founding fathers knew how quickly the flame of a democratic republic could go out. John Adams wrote in 1814, “Remember Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a Democracy yet that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to say that Democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious or less avaricious than Aristocracy or Monarchy. It is not true in fact and no where appears in history.”
Oh, haven’t we seen this in our partisan nation? As we ramp up to another U.S. presidential election this year, the seething political divisiveness of our country today threatens once again to boil over. A local Tahoe mountain kid explores education’s role in this, p. 30. Our feature news story this month speaks to how the ugliness has even spread to local elections in recent years, p. 10. Gratefully, healing happened, yet it indubitably will crop up again.
For the last five years, the nonpartisan Democracy Fund has been keeping tabs on academic studies that “show in stark terms the impact journalism has on our democracy.” In a roundup of this research, it asserts that quality local journalism can counter political polarization. One study showed that a local newspaper’s publishing only local editorials on its opinion pages slowed divisiveness. Another indicated that local media creates shared understanding of local issues, which counteracts the distrust in national media. University researchers found that in places where newspapers had closed, people tended to vote for “just one party up and down the ballot.” One of the authors, Joshua Darr of Louisiana State University, said in an article about the report, “It seems like it’s the very existence of a local option doing the work here. Just staying open seems like a fairly important factor, regardless of the level of political reporting in the news.”
Fighting for democracy is what matters to us at Moonshine Ink and I believe that is why the members listed to the right support the paper. We all wish to foster a free and equitable society here in our mountain community. Somewhere within us, we understand that means we need independent press. We sense that the newspaper needs to just stay open.
We aren’t alone; there is a collective wake-up call happening across our country. “People are really now alarmed,” said Alberto Ibargüen, the president of the Knight Foundation in a New York Times article about a fresh effort to fund local news. “There is a new understanding of the importance of information in the management of community, in the management of democracy in America, that I believe simply wasn’t there 15 years ago.”
When the political ugliness rears its head, it’s up to us to help each other tamp it down quickly. Remember the impact that keeping your focus local can have. When the difficulties facing our local community seem daunting, consider supporting the local and free press because it does make a difference. To keep our community thriving is to keep it equitable and free. And the best means to this end is to stay informed and stay involved. Be brave. Be kind. After all, every person deserves to be here.