Sometimes, a fact can exist so deep within the confines of your mind, you forget that it's even there. It sits in a darkened corner of your consciousness, dusty and cobwebbed from years of disuse. You're fully aware of its existence, but you don't need it, so there it stays, like an antique radio.
I was listening to an interview Dave Davies of NPR's "Fresh Air" conducted with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charlie LeDuff, who has written a book about his years as a reporter with the Detroit News in the gritty rustbelt remains of his hometown. It's called, "Detroit: An American Autopsy," and has taken up residence on my personal must-read list.
Toward the end of the interview, LeDuff was asked about his opinion about the future of the news media. Though he works in television now, LeDuff declared his allegiance to the newspaper as an information vehicle, particularly for investigative reporting on the local level.
Then, he said something so blindingly obvious yet personally profound, I nearly drove my car into a ditch: "The press is written into the Constitution like the judiciary, the executive and the legislative (branches)."
Instantly, that musty old fact got yanked out of the corner, was cleaned and polished, and brought upstairs to gleam in the sunlight. Wow. Jeez. Holy...whatever. Like most good reporters, I'm a skeptic at heart, and I'm certainly not the sort to fall for any inspirational nonsense. But I was genuinely moved to hear this veteran journalist remind me of just what I'm doing with my life.
A lot of perfectly good oxygen gets used up yakking about First Amendment rights in academic and political conversation. It's no wonder that I, like so many Americans, eventually tune it out. Doing so means that I never really considered how those rights apply to me and the manner in which I eek out my meager living.
Meager? Yes. I must admit to not disclosing the full text of the sentence when I quoted Mr. LeDuff above. The part that I hacked off of the end is, "... except they didn't leave us any money." Unlike the esteemed folks who occupy those three governmental branches, that is.
So the hours are long, and frequently include nights and holidays. You spend half your time running around and the other half molded to a desk chair, confronted by a blank screen and a looming deadline. Unless you become the star attraction at a big-name paper, you'll never have to worry about sliding into a higher tax bracket.
However, the brave men who decided that their democratic experiment was worth staging a revolution also thought enough of my job, of the work I do, that they explicitly said it was worthy of protection in their new Constitution. They put it in writing, signed with their names.
In an era when newspaper readership is in steep decline and overall trust in journalism is low, the critical role that the press plays in the function of a healthy democracy must be recounted. I'm not asking for free drinks or hugs from strangers, just for the support that makes what we do possible.
Why? I'll let Mr. LeDuff answer in his appealingly brash manner: "(People say) I can't trust the media, I hate the media. I say, you don't know anything until the media tells you. You know what I mean?"
(Richard Sberna is a reporter for The Review. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org )