Just before the Fourth of July weekend began, I found myself thinking about the Founding Fathers and journalism, as one is wont to do.
The founders thought enough about the Fourth Estate that they enshrined freedom of the press specifically into the First Amendment. It is the only specific industry to receive such a mention.
“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter,” Thomas Jefferson is reported to have said.
Yet, nowadays, newspapers don’t have such a stellar reputation. What’s happened in the few hundred years in between?
The answer, as with so many things in life, is complicated.
It’s been a whirlwind few weeks since I took over as managing editor of the Fort Bend Star. In that time, I’ve gotten to meet and talk with a few of you. I’ve tracked down some stories that have stuck with me. And I’ve realized just how dynamic a place Fort Bend County is.
But for all the things I’ve learned and the friendships formed, I can’t fight this nagging feeling in the back of my head. That is, I only know what I know.
A newspaper and a journalist are only useful to a community when they are in communication with that community. I think in recent decades, journalists have forgotten about that local connection.
Now, you’re more likely to find reporters talking with and sharing stories with other reporters on social media. What ever happened to the local, muckraking journalist, who spends most of their time drinking coffee with fellow residents when not seeking answers behind the latest local gossip?
A useful reporter is an engaged one.
I know what stories interest me. But in coming weeks and months, I’d like to better understand what stories matter to you.
In my introductory column, I asked you all to reach out and tell us if something needs covering or if there’s a question you’d like answered.
That still holds true. I’ve been reviewing agendas and community social media pages, but I still feel like I’m grasping at the edges.
Reestablishing journalism’s role in the community takes more than just that.
We at the Fort Bend Star aren’t some ethereal presence handing down edicts from on high. We’re your friends and neighbors, we visit your restaurants and we travel your streets, just like all of you.
That being said, we’re just as imperfect as you. But we’re learning.
What would you like to see out of the Fort Bend Star in the future? What could we do to make you more compelled to pick up a paper each week, or visit our website?
That dynamic conversation is critical if this newspaper is to hold the role in the civic life in Fort Bend County that I believe it should.
This isn’t a one-sided street, either. I believe a healthy news organization is an essential public service. Our job is to advocate, not on behalf of a specific viewpoint, but on behalf of our readers – people who might want to know more about the inner workings of the county’s businesses, municipalities, organizations and neighborhoods, but don’t have eight hours a day to pursue it.
Just this week, reporters at the Star worked to file open records requests and ask follow-up questions about a local school district’s finances.
We work for you. But we’d like to do an even better job, not just of working for you, but serving your specific information needs in the year 2021.
That takes communicating. If you like a story and would like to see more like it, let us know. If you read a story, and have questions, maybe we could ask them on your behalf for a future article. Heck, if you read something and absolutely hate it, let us know also.
If those of us in Fort Bend County work together, I’m confident the Star can be one of the best community newspapers in the country.
Abraham Lincoln spoke of a government of the people by the people for the people. This newspaper strives for the same thing.
Here’s hoping all of you had a good Fourth of July weekend.