Editorial: Journalism is a life with consequences

By Patric Hedlund, Editor

A couple of weeks ago The Mountain Enterprise published a letter to the Mountain Communities from Navy Reserve Captain Melinda Michael, formerly a Frazier Park resident, now deployed to Kabul. She told about the tension in the city during the run-up to Afghanistan’s presidential elections. Two days later an Afghan police commander opened fire with an automatic rifle on two Associated Press (AP) journalists, killing Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Anja Niedringhaus and gravely wounding veteran correspondent Kathy Gannon.

“She (Anja) is the 32nd AP staffer to give their life in pursuit of the news since AP was founded,” wrote AP President Gary Pruitt about Niedringhaus. “This is a profession of the brave and the passionate, those committed to the mission of bringing to the world information that is fair, accurate and important.”

Gannon, 60 has gone through multiple surgeries, AP reports. She was part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning team reporting on Iraq. She was also awarded the Courage in Journalism Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation.

In 2013, 70 journalists were killed in the line of duty worldwide, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

This can be a dangerous profession for those who take public service seriously. It is a field that requires dedication without expectation of great financial gain. It is a field ruled by a strong code of ethics, devoted to winning trust and using that trust with the greatest respect for the people we serve.

This week the Pulitzer Prizes for journalism were announced from Columbia University. The Center for Public Integrity won a Pulitzer Prize for its investigative report, published online, “Breathless and Burdened: Dying from Black Lung, Buried by Law and Medicine.” It was a year-long investigation illuminating how doctors and lawyers worked with the coal industry to defeat benefit claims of coal miners who were sick and dying of black lung disease.

The Washington Post and The Guardian Online won Pulitzer Prizes for their revelations of widespread secret surveillance by the National Security Agency, based in part on information revealed by whilstleblower Edward Snowden. The publications and the reporters who did the work were threatened with legal action by the U.S. government, but held firm.

Also this week, Carl Bernstein was in the San Joaquin Valley, speaking about his life devoted to journalism. He was half of the Woodward and Bernstein team that broke the now-famous Watergate burglary story, first as local news in Washington, D.C.

But in the cover-up effort that followed, the Nixon Administration tried to sue the Washington Post and to exert leverage over them financially through the FCC (regarding the company’s television holdings) and in other ways. The publisher refused to flinch.

Their reporting went on to reveal far-reaching criminal activity by the Nixon Administration. Finally, the president of the United States resigned.

Journalism is more than a job. It is a culture. It is built around ideals, ethics and values. It is a life for those who understand that what we do has consequences.

With these thoughts in mind, members of the Hometown Publishing staff right here in Frazier Park were thrilled to receive word from Sacramento this month about statewide awards for excellence in journalism. The California Newspaper Publishers Association has invited us to attend their awards ceremony in Northern California at the end of this month to receive awards in five categories.

We frankly don’t yet know what our work has won. We only know that The Mountain Enterprise has won first or second prize in the statewide contest for Best Editorial Comment, Best Artistic Photo, Best Website and Best Front Page, plus an award as Blue Ribbon Finalist for Coverage of Education.

In the last few years The Mountain Enterprise, tiny as we are, has won 13 state and national awards for public service, investigative reporting, and excellence in multiple categories, including best website and best online reporting (including our breaking news service) among newspapers of all sizes.

We are grateful to all the members of this community who show they care about excellence and accountability by supporting the local newspaper that has been giving a voice to the people of the Mountain Communities since1966.

A note to our readers: We are writing a series of editorials about journalism this month because we have been contacted by nearly two  dozen members of the community who say a spammer claiming to be a journalist is harassing them, making threats, seeking money, favors or other personal gain. This individual is not associated with our company, does not have a background in journalism and does not appear interested in learning about the ethics which guide journalists.

This is part of the April 18, 2014 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

Have an opinion on this matter? We'd like to hear from you.