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Commentary

Finding a collage of passion, struggle, and patriotism in editorials about the free press

A central pillar of President Trump’s politics is a sustained assault on the free press.
A central pillar of President Trump’s politics is a sustained assault on the free press.

It’s impossible not to glance through the collection of editorials assembled by more than 400 news outlets this week and not notice the vibrant collage it provides of the journalism profession in 2018.

These essays are, above all, deeply passionate. They are written by men and women who have answered a calling, a public service, and continue at it, regardless of the financial pressures, the technological changes, and the political cross-currents that buffet them daily. More than 60 percent of the industry’s jobs have vanished in the past quarter-century.

“In our household, journalism was never about commentary. That had its place on the Opinion pages,” wrote Francis Wick, a three-generation newspaperman in Sierra Vista, Ariz. “It was the pursuit of understanding and informing about all aspects of an issue. It’s the best job in the world; a license to be a lifelong learner, asking questions and sharing knowledge with a community wanting and needing to be informed.”

Present in many pieces were the words of the Founders. They are long gone. But it is a testament to that vision that the Americans who’ve come after them have embraced their values with such religiosity.

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“I promise to do my best to attend school board meetings, city and county commission meetings, port meetings, high school baseball track meets, Little League games. The list goes on. But I need your help,” wrote the editor of The Vidette in Montesano, Washington. “I need somebody to read this stuff. I need somebody to help tell me what’s going on in the community, what’s going right and what’s going wrong.”

It is often thankless. “At the end of the workday, heading out to beat-up Honda Civics littered with McDonald’s napkins, driving home and trying to mollify their families for having missed the family dinner or the soccer game. Again. Because, you know, it was a big story,” wrote the editorial writer for the Hartford Courant. “That’s the life of your typical journalist.”

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The typical journalist isn’t found on CNN or working for the Boston Globe. Those are the few, the heavily-resourced, and the stereotype.

The reality is that most journalists around the world report and write locally. They squeak by on wages that, like many working people, have fallen or stayed stagnant for years.

And they are united by a dread that most Americans leave behind when they graduate from school.

“Just as our sleepy reporter is about to drift off to oblivion, she is jolted into five-alarm wakefulness by a nagging question: Does the widow of the late Congressman Joe Schlabotnik, whose obituary the reporter spent the previous day writing, spell her name Katherine with a K or Catherine with a C? Did the reporter remember to check?” Brian Dickerson wrote in the Detroit Free Press.

But, these days, those fears have been compounded. The shooting in June that left five dead in the newsroom of the Capital Gazette outside Baltimore is still reverberating.

“I always sit where I’m close to an exit when I’m covering something in the event anything major takes place and I need to leave in a hurry. Every time I hear our front office door open, I look up to see if whomever is coming in looks or acts suspicious,” Deb Robinson wrote in the Canton Daily Ledger in Illinois.

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“We have had some issues with our ceiling at the Ledger. Recently, a beam shifted and made so much noise it sounded as if someone fired a gun. I was ready to hit the deck. My heart felt as though it was going to jump out of my chest for a good hour afterwards.”

Echoing through the entire project is a plea, not to be treated as an “other” or “the enemy of the American people” as the president has convinced many of his supporters that journalists are.

“We are people who, like you, have a stake in our communities. We are your neighbors. We are people who live and work in the same towns as you. We send our children to local schools. We sing in the church choir. We struggle to pay our bills. We have relatives serving in the armed forces,” wrote the editorial board of the StarNews in Wilmington, N.C. “We love America.”

The president might not see those words. Nor would he be likely to believe them if he were to do so.

But reading through theses many testaments, there can be little doubt that the people doing this work across the country genuinely believe in the patriotism of their calling.


Alex Kingsbury can be reached at alex.kingsbury@globe.com.