Good journalism is vital for good governance in a democracy

Click HERE to see stories published in the June 5 – June 18, 2019 Morgan Hill Life

By Marty Cheek

Marty Cheek

In a couple of weeks I will be in Sacramento to receive what our newspaper team considers an extremely prestigious award for Life Media Group, the company that publishes Morgan Hill Life.

I’d love to share with you more details, but the statewide organization presenting us with the honor requested we hold the announcement until the day of the ceremony. Believe me, the newshound in me is tugging on the leash to tell our Morgan Hill Life readers the story.

Speaking about awards, I’d like to congratulate our friends at The Gilroy Dispatch, which received  first place for general excellence for a publication of its size from the California News Publishers Association in its annual California Journalism Awards Contest held May 4. A special congratulations to Dispatch reporter Michael Moore who received a second-place award for in-depth reporting for his series of stories published in 2018 informing the public on the death of Steven Juarez while in the Gilroy Police Department’s custody.

People have asked us why Gilroy Life has never received awards from CNPA. The reason is simple: we’ve just never submitted any stories or op-eds to this news industry contest.

Despite what some folks might think, we journalists are human. We love to bask in the glow of recognition for the work we do. It’s nice to get a pat on the back for our dedication to keeping the public informed about current events and serving the community as a watchdog of democracy.

But the people in the news biz don’t do their jobs for the temporary buzz of an award. We have a higher calling than just putting a plaque on the newsroom wall. Good journalism is about protecting and enhancing the quality of life for all people in our community. The free press is a vital institution to safeguard our political system, economy, society and cultural from human nature’s inherent frailties.

We’re at a time in our nation’s history when the free press is threatened by those in political power. Earlier this month, I learned about how San Francisco police with a search warrant raided a reporter’s home for refusing to disclose the name of a source used in a story he wrote. Freelance reporter Bryan Carmody received from that confidential source a police report on the death of prominent public defender Jeff Adachi. He sold the story to three television news stations, and they aired portions of it. On May 10, police officers bashed the door of Carmody’s home with a sledgehammer. They handcuffed him and took his hard drives, phones and various documents including the police report he had received.

We’re still learning more details, but it’s a dangerous  precedent for law enforcement officials to cross over the line of the First Amendment and state laws that protect reporters who gather leaked government documents for news operations. It’s a routine activity in our profession and the prime purpose for this is to protect the “whistle blowers” who seek to put a public spotlight on corruption in government, business and elsewhere. The Supreme Court has confirmed this practice is constitutional.

Government officials must abide by the U.S. Constitution. They must understand what reporters do and why the work we do to inform the public is vital to our democratic system. If we lose our free press, we lose our freedoms. If we lose our freedoms, we lose America.

Marty Cheek is the publisher of Morgan Hill Life.