“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”
As public relations professionals, we spend a great deal of time thinking about and working with the press. Even as owned and shared platforms emerge as powerful tools for communication, we have not lost sight of the importance, influence, and power of traditional media in our work. And despite claims to the contrary, we have not lost faith in the media’s ability to produce critical, honest, and accountable reporting.
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Unfortunately, that faith is not shared among all segments of the population. The upshot is what appears to be a growing threat to press freedom in the United States. Verbal and physical attacks on journalists, the jailing of a Mexican reporter who criticized the U.S. asylum process, and attempts to block press access to the White House have contributed to the country’s diminished position on the World Press Freedom Index. The United States now ranks 45th.
A threatened press hits us close to home. Among our firm’s colleagues, clients, and consultants are current and former journalists who have reported from war zones, the White House, Capitol Hill, and covered everything from the global economy to school board meetings in cities and towns across the country. On a broader scale, professionals in the public relations industry rely upon a free press “as we speak honestly and fearlessly on behalf of ourselves, our companies, clients and causes.” With our profession so closely intertwined with that of the journalism community, it is our responsibility to support efforts to protect and defend the First Amendment and working journalists.
At Stanton, we do this primarily by supporting two journalism organizations: The National Press Club and the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW). As longtime members of the Press Club, we have served on the Fourth Estate Award committee, honoring members of the press who have achieved distinction for a lifetime of contributions to American journalism. These journalists include CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Bob Woodward of the Washington Post, and acclaimed NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell, all of whom serve as examples of the impact responsible and determined journalism can have on our society and culture. They are among the finest of America’s press corps, but by no means the only examples.
As new members of SABEW, we have participated in forums on the topics of First Amendment freedoms and press access to government data. The organization’s First Amendment Initiative advocates for the press in the face of serious risks and threats including verbal attacks and reduced access from government, violence abroad, and continued disruption of news media business models. We look forward to becoming more active participants in SABEW’s efforts and urge others in the public relations field to join us. In the coming weeks, I will share perspectives from SABEW Executive Director Kathleen Graham on ways communication professionals can support SABEW’s important work during this critical time.
We thank SABEW and the National Press Club for inviting communicators to join their ranks in support of the practice of free journalism around the world. While models and methods continue to change how the press conduct their work, there is no question that our society and liberty, in Jefferson’s words, depend on it.