Democracy Depends on Independent Journalism by Councilmember Bob Blumenfield

- Published by the Valley News Group -

While some people think of journalists and elected officials as rivals or ‘hunter and hunted’- the truth is we are symbiotic. Consequently, I have a front row seat and stake in what it happening to the ‘fourth estate,’ and I am very concerned.

When I was 9 years old, my life changed because I signed up to be a youth reporter with ‘Children's Express.’ Through this great opportunity, I learned so much including interview techniques, research skills, and how to investigate and report. I also learned that every story has different perspectives. Though I eventually chose a different professional path, I have always had the utmost respect for journalists and have tried to continue those values in my life. Now, as a policy maker, I rely on independent journalism to help me do my job. I fear that if the current trend continues, we will have fewer reliable sources shining the light on the critical issues of the day. This is particularly important in a city as big and sprawling as Los Angeles. Good policies happen when the electorate is informed and engaged.

Over the past few months, local journalism in Los Angeles has experienced a severe shock. From deep personnel cuts at the Southern California News Groups and LA Weekly, to the loss of the LAist and the EGP News, to chronic upheaval between the LA Times newsroom and Tronc, we have seen a steady weakening of crucial local institutions.  Though it is very hopeful to read that the LA Times is poised to return to local ownership soon, our region is losing important platforms and seasoned reporters and, if this trend continues, the health and wellbeing of our civic institutions will be at risk. We rely on local journalists to hold decision makers like me accountable and ensure transparency. Our democracy depends on it. We can’t take good, quality, independent journalism for granted because if we do, it will be gone.

The corporatization of local journalism is creating a culture where regional outlets are struggling to survive and maintain their independence. News organizations are being bought to serve as money making entities for the parent company; if the profits aren’t seen as sufficient, they will be cut back or simply eliminated. In the 1950s and ‘60s, NBC, ABC and CBS made time each night for news not as a way to make money, but to inform the public on the day’s events. You couldn’t fast forward through stories you didn’t want to see or go online and watch clips from unverified sources spouting off falsehoods. Though we cannot, and should not, return to an era with fewer outlets of information, it is imperative that we make sure the sources are trusted and verified and not challenge everything that goes against our ethos.

As the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” We must support quality, independent local journalism because if we don’t, the lines between opinion and facts will continue to blur. An informed citizen is more likely to be an active citizen, and only with citizen involvement can our democracy flourish. 

Now, since you’ve read whole article, I want to remind you that by reading papers like this, ones that are run by the community, for the community, and funded by local business, you are helping ensure that we are more informed about local civic issues and events. Thank you for reading and staying an active and informed Angeleno.

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