Quality journalism is an indispensable element of a free society

Good journalism in America is not dead. It is alive and well at the local and national levels in our country.

The First Amendment to the Constitution assures freedom of speech and freedom of the press. The contribution that this amendment has made to the growth, development and well-being of our country is incalculable.

One of the best examples I’ve seen recently of superior print journalism was the March 12 issue of USA Today.

The front-page article, titled “Fugitives Next Door,” tells the story of how thousands of fugitives are escaping justice simply by crossing state lines.

USA Today’s investigation tells of more than 3,300 accused of sexual assaults, robberies and even murder who are never punished – because they aren’t pursued across state borders through the normal channels of extradition.

The article says “Those decisions, almost always made in secret, permit fugitives to go free in communities across the country, leaving their crimes unpunished, their victims outraged and the public at risk.”

The FBI has a confidential database to track outstanding warrants. In at least 186,000 of those cases, police say they would not spend the time or the money to retrieve the fugitive from another state through extradition.

This shocking story, which absolutely had to be told, could not have been told without the dedication, commitment and resources of a major newspaper that has the public interest foremost in mind. Our congratulations to our friends at USA Today for an exemplary piece of old-fashioned, hard-nosed investigative journalism that, happily, is still being produced today.

 

AT THE LOCAL LEVEL, I’m proud to report this company’s newspapers also have done their part to keep Americans informed and free. One example, coming from our journalists in Alaska, is an outstanding series of articles telling the story of the decline in the number of king salmon in that state and why it was happening.

In Jacksonville, Fla., our Florida Times-Union investigated and disclosed that the mayor and other city officials had met in secret with the police and firefighter unions and renegotiated their pension plans.

That agreement was done under the guise of federal court mediation, in violation of the state’s sunshine laws, and involved a $1.7 billion-dollar unfunded obligation that threatens the city of Jacksonville. The Times-Union sued under the state law, and a judge invalidated the agreement and ordered the city to negotiate only in public.

No matter how many sources of information pop up – not all of them credible and reliable, as you know – America continues to need good journalism.

That may never have been truer than it is today. Technology has increased the speed of seemingly everything today – including the speed with which government and other forces act, often in ways that impact your life and livelihood.

Our First Amendment guarantees the people’s right to disseminate information of this and almost every other kind.

Newspapers provide the majority of this journalism, and often the best of it.

Certainly newspapers have experienced great challenges in the recent recession, and have been tested over the years by both technology and competition. But as USA Today’s article illustrates, and our own company’s experiences confirm, they continue to provide the necessary journalism that a free nation needs.

I couldn’t be more delighted to be a part of it.

 

(The writer is chairman and chief executive officer of Morris Communications Co.)

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