Perspective: A free press and a free country

By Cynthia Prairie
©2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Every day, we journalists work to make sure our news stories reflect the truth as best as can be gleaned from the sources that we have.

We strive to make those stories pertinent to our community and, most importantly, we work to ensure that our stories are informative, because we know that a well-informed public keeps those in power in check and keeps our democracy healthy.

As we report, write and edit articles, we look for misunderstandings, factual errors, unfairness, bias and libel within our work.

The hours, minutes and seconds before publishing a controversial story are stomach-churning. And then we wait. No matter how much we have vetted the story among staff and with attorneys, we still hold our breath and, even after publication, we continue to look for the weak spot, the spot that we might have overlooked, all in the effort of presenting a fair, accurate, unbiased picture.

While we expect to be disliked by a portion of the population, we also know that there might be a small number who might act out against us either through a baseless lawsuit or even with a weapon.

In Annapolis, Md., at the Capital Gazette newspapers, first came the baseless lawsuits, then came the weapon.

I worked in newspapers in Maryland for 20 years and my years in newspapering there were some of the best. Those years laid the groundwork for the creation and success of The Chester Telegraph.

I continue to “work in Maryland,” only I do so remotely, from our little home in Vermont.

Six days a week, many times before the sun has risen, I read several dozen newspapers and other news sources  to compile a roundup of the latest political news throughout the state for MarylandReporter.com, an online publication founded by my former boss, Len Lazarick.  Not surprising, I know vastly more about Maryland politicians and politics than I do about Vermont’s.

This keeps me in touch with my former colleagues .and their continued great work and it has introduced me to some fine journalists that I never had the opportunity to work with.

And so I can rattle off the names of the Capital Gazette reporters whose stories I have included in my column. Chase Cook, Phil Davis, Pat Furgurson, Rachael Pacella and others.

Pacella was injured, and Davis, who was also in the newsroom, gave a gripping first-hand account of the attack. Cook, Furgurson and Davis were then on the scene to report the story as it unfolded, working  well into the evening from the back of a truck in a parking garage. It is the epitome of what dedicated journalists do.

I only knew those murdered by reputation, but now, thanks to the many articles written about – Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters, I have a clearer picture of who they are and what made their lives so special.

And that is also what journalists do. We tell the stories of our communities, our governments and now ourselves. We  bring to life people you may not know, clarify situations you may not understand, add context  to difficult topics and light into those dark places.

As the Capital Gazette, Annapolis and Maryland regain their footing after this horror, absorbing both the outpouring of sympathy as well as the hatred — yes, that too is pouring in — I would wish that we all take a few steps back, take a deep breath and consider — especially during our Independence Day celebrations — how much less free our country would be without journalists.

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Filed Under: CommentaryTelegraph Editorial

About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 30 years. She has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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  1. Laurie Danforth says:

    Hear Hear Cynthia! It is deeply disturbing to see the work of professional journalists maligned and mistrusted. Our democracy is being dismantled and the first sign is preaching that no one can trust the news. “Fake News.” It must be challenging to see this turn of events and danger in our own country for your journalist colleagues. Once journalists reported from Vietnam or Iraq in spite of the dangers. Now those dangers are right here present with you every day. My heart is heavy with loss.

  2. Polly Montgomery says:

    Dear Cynthia,
    Thank you for your words. It is helpful to read your perspective as a journalist on that tragic event in Maryland. It brings it all a little bit closer, painfully so. Yes, I celebrate our freedom today and I will fight for it. Here’s to those willing to stand for freedom of the press and other constitutional rights. Knowing history is so crucial in these times. Stay strong!