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Considering our responsibility

Members of the media have a tremendous responsibility.
The Founding Fathers viewed the press’ job as so vital they protected the press, along with the rights to assembly, speech and religion, in the First Amendment.

They did so because they, detractors of English oppression, knew how vital it was to mass distribute information to the citizens of our young nation.

People like Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and Benjamin Franklin were able to liberate our nation through their printed words rather than brute force — proving the phrase, “The pen is mightier than the sword.”

In other countries, oppressive dictators typically attack writers who openly criticize the government because they know these individuals’ ability to mold the minds of the populous through truth-telling is more dangerous than a few rebels looking to take over with a coup.

Journalism has been a key factor in warfare for centuries now.

Military leaders know you must get the masses on your side. No matter how many great soldiers you have, nothing is more vital than passion in numbers.

As a result, the media has become such an engrained factor in our society you can rarely have a conversation without the media coming up.

Whether it’s through calling us left-wing liberals trying to poison the minds of the people or just simply conversing at the coffee shop about something you read in the paper, journalism seeps into your everyday life.

Again, the media has a tremendous responsibility.

We see this when we are prompted to look into certain issues from anonymous people or public officials. We always take that search with a grain of salt because we know we’ve been prompted to do so. Still we do our research and if we deem it important, we publish a story on it. This goes from the mundane events that affect just a handful or to things like the recently debated smoking ordinance that still does not have a resolution.

At the same time, it’s our job to use our sensibilities to put pressure on people to get a job done. We’ve done so with the city commission and mayor in drafting a final smoking ordinance.

Though it’s a slow process, we’re pleased that progress is being made. That topic alone brings about the issue of what the media’s job is.

Do we report or do we push agendas? Simply put, it is our job to report to make sure the agenda that best suits the residents of Ennis, for us, is our job. Responsibility is key. That requires insight into what the people of Ennis want or don’t want. It also affords us a chance to fairly treat the underdog.

In the controversial case of the slaughterhouse bordering Ellis County south of Ennis, we have directed our coverage more on the property issues surrounding a slaughterhouse than the method by which the slaughters are taking place.

Some in our community fear terrorism will be bred at the slaughterhouse because the owner is a Muslim. Individuals have a right to that opinion, but we have a responsibility to direct people to the real issue we face right now – whether or not the slaughterhouse is good for the area in question. Those residents don’t want it there, and have few if any rights to stop it. We owe it to those residents who are not being properly represented by their government (check our Friday editorial for details on that).

Last month, the Ennis Daily News declined to report a fatality that occurred when a former employee of our hospital (who worked there for one week) died in his home near Dallas from an apparent overdose.

Some criticized us or wondered if we were covering something up. However, we have no proof of where the drugs were stolen. Though we have a pretty good idea, that doesn’t warrant us publishing rumor or innuendo. We also don’t cover overdoses or suicides unless a prominent person was involved or it occurred on public property.

Some bloggers have tuned into covering these types of cases to fill the void left by traditional venues like ours. That is fine, but we will not report without facts. It is our job to get those facts, but often, those “facts” are convoluted or simply unobtainable with cold, hard details. If something changes on that end, we will relentlessly pursue further details. Remember, just because you don’t see it in print does not mean we haven’t looked into it or are not still checking. Sometimes what you hear, even from people who claim to know what happened, is false or has little truth to it. In other cases, evidence leads us to a dead end. Without proof, we open ourselves up to lawsuit and worst of all losing our credibility.

Bloggers don’t typically worry about lawsuits because they make no money and no lawyer would take that case for that very reason. Also, the law does not hold electronic media to the same standards as print. I won’t even comment on credibility issues for bloggers. The EDN is a better target. If we published some of what I’ve read online in message boards, blogs and social networking sites, we would be out of business — nobody would trust us anymore.

Are we always right? No. Is our judgment impeccable? Absolutely not.

We stand by our stories and non-stories, and the responsibility the Founding Fathers issued to us through this most important of Amendments. Freedom of the press is a wonderful thing and a right we don’t take lightly.

Tre Bischof has an open door policy to his staff and the community. If you have a concern, do like some others in town have already done, and sit down and speak with him or e-mail tre@ennisdailynews.com.

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Posted by on Mar 24 2010. Filed under Editorials. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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