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Our View: Who tells the story when journalists are killed?

June 4, 2018 GMT

Schoolkids are being killed. Police are killed in the line of duty. The military loses people. It’s a crazy time in the country and world.

Fortunately, a free press is able to tell those tales. Unfortunately, the people who try to tell it are being killed off as well.

A dedication at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. today adds 18 names to its memorial to fallen journalists. The 18 represent the dozens who were killed in 2017. They had one significant thing in common: They wanted to keep the public informed because an informed public makes better decisions.

Certainly, the deaths of dozens of journalists around the whole world doesn’t compare to the large number of police and military who die in the line of duty defending the rule of law and freedom. Reporter deaths don’t even equate in number or emotional intensity to the deaths of too many school children.

We know this and understand this largely because journalists tell those tales. So who worries about the effect when journalists are killed? Who wonders about the quality of news and information if journalists die or cowed into submission?

In an age of social media, some argue, journalism is itself dead. A lot of spot news, after all, is captured by social media. We’d argue that social media itself — the ability of people to tell their own version of events without questions — is a reason why the world needs good journalism right now.

Almost all of the reporters killed are from a country other than the U.S. In many countries, one of the main ways in which non-democratic governments seize and retain power is through the control of information, thus requiring the silencing of the press.

Sadly, the current U.S. administration has essentially green lighted those repressive governments through its own dealings with the press. The term fake news has morphed in the U.S. from something that is factually inaccurate into something that is unflattering. Message received in the third world.

The U.S. government needs to send a message that it recognizes press freedom as a foundation of democracy. It needs to say that it won’t tolerate violence against journalists and it needs to do so by example. That’s a tall request and there’s nothing on the horizon to signal this will happen.

Meanwhile, in D.C. today, the dead are memorialized.

— Today’s News-Herald