The relationship between the Georgia press and state government has always been a bit of a chess match.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The power of the press should not be underestimated, nor should it be abused. The relationship between the media and the government it covers does not have to be embattled but it should not be too cozy either.
In 1841, Thomas Carlyle wrote about the power of the press, conjuring the words of Edmond Burke.
“Burke said there were Three Estates in Parliament; but, in the Reporters’ Gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.”
Burke may have been chiding the press for its sense of itself, but Carlyle used his words to write about the importance of newspapers to democracy.
In an often quoted letter to Edward Carrington, Thomas Jefferson wrote if he had to choose between “a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”
The media, and newspapers in particular, has a long and important legacy of providing checks and balances as the Fourth Estate of government. Newspapers do not see themselves as an enemy of government — rather we are the champions of ordinary men and women.
Reporters should not be bullies out to pick a fight with newsmakers. Rather, they hold public officials accountable, advocate for openness in government and champion the cause of the public because they are committed to the neighborhoods, cities, counties, states, nation and coverage areas they serve.
Journalists hold government accountable because at our very core we believe government belongs to the governed and not to the governing. If the press does not stand up for the public, protect the rights of free speech and the rights of access to government, then no one will.
Furthermore, any newspaper that represents the interests of the governing more than the interests of the governed is not worth the paper it is printed on or the ink that fills its pages.
CNHI Deputy National Editor Jim Zachary is CNHI’s regional editor for its Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas newspapers and the editor of the Valdosta Daily Times. He is vice president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.