Gov. Larry Hogan proclaimed Monday, June 28, as “Freedom of the Press Day.” The June 28 designation coincides with the third anniversary of the fatal shooting of five Capital Gazette employees — Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith, and Wendi Winters — in 2018.
“It has now been three years since five employees of the Capital Gazette lost their lives in a horrific act of violence,” Hogan said in a statement. “Today, as we dedicate a new memorial in their honor, we are reminded that our First Amendment — and our democracy itself — depends on a strong, vibrant, and unfettered free press. We must all continue to work hard to guard and defend that at all costs.”
The somber anniversary of the Annapolis shootings underscores the importance of a free press — and local newspapers.
The First Amendment, free speech and freedom of the press are uniquely American concepts. They have helped spur creativity, innovation and healthy dissent and debate.
Community journalism, in particular, is essential to our towns and communities here on the Eastern Shore.
We are here to tell the stories of those helping our neighbors in need as well as the most vulnerable and of the historically voiceless and underrepresented. Those all need to cut across the political, socio-economic and cultural perspectives.
We are here to keep tabs on how elected officials and those in charge are spending taxpayer money — and how the powerful are treating the less powerful and powerless.
We want to to tell more local stories of small businesses, artists, musicians and entrepreneurs — and bring Delmarva perspectives to broader issues and challenges.
Local voices will not be heard and local stories will not get told without community journalists here to help bring them to life.
Free speech and freedom of the press are not easy. They can be messy and contentious.
Journalists — including those in Annapolis — can give their lives for their purpose. Fifty journalists died on the job, including covering wars, drug cartels and corruption, in 2020, according to Reporters without Borders.
Social media giants such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are the latest tough terrain for free speech. They have been restricting and banning controversial — and in some cases more extreme — accounts. Some of those came after the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol — including former President Donald Trump — while other social purges have been aimed at QAnon advocates and anti-vaxxers opposing COVID vaccines.
We know social media titans control their platforms, but we worry about a slippery slope of censorship and restricting uncomfortable speech. Facebook and Twitter are our town squares right now.
In the end, we believe more speech and more discourse are better than less. Some of that speech involves those criticizing the media and the government.
While some of the current discourse, especially on social media, is churlish and spiteful, we need to keep it in a broader perspective that welcomes rigorous debate and discourse.
Free speech and community journalism are not always easy and might not always produce the results preferred by partisans, ideologues and those of power and influence.
Both are uniquely American and important to our democracy and our communities on the Shore.