A friend sent me a text this week and suggested I use my “position at the newspaper” to influence local government. The influence might be a welcome one, probably even needed. But that’s not my role.
My message back to him: “We don’t practice activism journalism. We don’t create the story, we just report it.”
I realize that reporting does at times expose corruption but we don’t set out to influence or create change. Our job is simply to make you aware so that you can create
your own influence and actuate your own change.
I have never felt as though our position as a Fourth Estate is any more powerful than the voices of our readers. In fact, I’ve never fully embraced the idea of the
newspaper as The Fourth Estate in the sense that we’re any form of political force. The Fourth Estate, to me, is the people. Collectively in a democracy, we are the voice to balance the power of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.
Our role is to inform the public and make sure our government is open and accessible to the people it serves. We are an important fabric in the layer of accountability. So in that regard I do embrace our role as The Fourth Estate.
We’re more about the process of producing a society with a more informed electorate.
Our power is rooted explicitly in the people who are informed by reading our newspaper.
We serve as trustees for the public.
There is no doubt that a government that is unresponsive to its people ceases to be
free. It serves as a rule by power, not by people.
In a text message back to me, my friend questioned how our editorial board fit
“You guys take on the city council and the supervisors all the time,” he wrote. “What’s the difference?”
True enough our 6-member editorial board — made up of people in various departments at The Meridian Star — does meet weekly to look at issues to take stances on. More often than not, the target of our focus is the city or county government. And typically our focus is advocating for a more transparent system of government. We try to push government for a level of openness that government officials are rarely comfortable
giving. We also fully embrace our role as a watchdog of taxpayer money.
Two weeks ago, as an example, we reported on the potential issues with the
city’s lease with Watkins Development for the new police station. We asked some tough questions in an open forum. We voiced concern over officials obligating taxpayers to a
long-term project without carefully reading the fine print. We then gave city officials a
chance to respond.
Last week we wrote about Lauderdale County’s debt for the now defunct Loblolly
project. We advocated for the taxpayers who desperately deserve an update on the project
that nearly $1 million a year of their money continues to be spent towards paying the
loan. We presented the facts.
On today’s editorial page, you can read Supervisor Craig Hitt’s response to our
That’s a great example of walking the line of accountability without “using a position” to do something. Both of those are examples of informing the public and empowering them so that they may use their position to do something, should they so choose.
These are also great reminders of how we are here to present the facts, even when — and oftentimes especially when — they may be uncomfortable to elected officials.
We’re not afraid to use our voice but we’re also careful with how we use it.
And at the end of the day it’s not about us. It’s about you, the reader. It’s about giving a megaphone to those who demand to know more about how their leaders are spending
It’s something our founders thought as fundamental to a full-functioning free society. But as we hand you the megaphone it’s up to you to use it.
Only you, an informed electorate, can change something. We’re just the vehicle to
get you there.
Fredie Carmichael is executive editor of The Meridian Star. He also hosts a
weekly radio on WMOX 1010 AM — “Sunday Mornings with the Editor” — from 8
a.m.-10 a.m. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.