I attended the national convention of the Society of Professional Journalists in Washington, D.C., in October. It was an outstanding event, including sessions on the electronic revolutions reshaping journalism, remembrances of Presidential press secretaries, the frustrations of current White House reporters, and watching Helen Thomas interview Leila Fadel, the brave 26-year-old Baghdad bureau chief for McClatchy News, on how she dodges the dangers of reporting from Iraq.
The greatest moments at the conference were these, when I sat and listened to the giants of journalism talk about the importance of their profession. Journalists take a real beating these days from many quarters; it’s hard to remember sometime why you even were attracted to the profession in the first place. It certainly isn’t for the pay. Ask any reporter/editor from a weekly who’s accustomed to earning 30 hours’ pay for an 80-hour week.
But when you hear from some of the best, as I did, you’re reminded that a free press is one of the last bastions of a free people at any time in history. It might sound corny to say but it’s true.
Imagine a panel with Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein and Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee recalling the reporting of Watergate..a story that involved some 37 criminal offenses yet still manages to look tame compared to some of the constitutional chicanery we’ve endured since. Imagine Scott Armstrong from the Senate impeachment proceedings and Daniel Schoor from CBS sitting on the same stage, with Bob Schieffer as moderator. Imagine them remembering the late publisher Katherine Graham who, even when threatened economically with the loss of five television station licenses by the Nixonites, never once considered asking Woodward and Bernstein to back off of the story.
These are journalists, not Bill O’Reilley windbags or “Access Hollywood” wanna-bes.
What Woodward, Bernstein, Bradlee, Armstrong, Schieffer, Graham, Schoor, Thomas and now Fadel remind us is this: in a free and open society, journalism matters.
And great journalism matters greatly.
Ellen M Mrja