There is an editorial cartoon pinned up at my desk depicting Ma and Pa America opening their mail. Ma says, “We sure saved money by dropping the newspaper last year,” and Pa, perusing a letter, says, “Whoa! How’d they raise our property taxes without us knowing about it?”
I thought about that cartoon last week when the Best Picture Oscar was awarded to “Spotlight,” a film that depicts how The Boston Globe exposed the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests. I thought about the importance of journalism and investigation and the crucial role that professionals dedicated to those pillars play in our democracy.
There is a reason, after all, that the First Amendment includes “freedom of the press” as one of the foundations of our nation. There is a reason that Thomas Jefferson wrote, “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” (Yes, he actually wrote this, according to Monticello.org — unlike most of the Internet quotes attributed to Jefferson).
These are difficult times for newspapers; that is no secret. Suffering from an antiquated businesses model compounded by the rise of the Internet and the Great Recession, newspapers across the country have slashed staff over the past decade-and-a-half. This is particularly true at large metro papers, as reflected by the fact that the daily paper in Portland is no longer a daily if you wish to have it delivered to your doorstep.
It is those large papers that long have had the resources to dig into stories that require a lot of digging; to uncover the layers that inherently accompany the most egregious of scandals and the most carefully constructed of cover-ups. And the question now is whether anybody has the money and the time to perform the type of onion-peeling that is essential to our nation.