By: Sarah Hicks
The White House doesn’t want you to read the news. A Texan member of the House of Representatives who chairs the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee announced that he thinks it would be better if the American people started ignoring the media. Instead, they should get their news straight from the new president. Horrifyingly, Representative Lamar Smith is also a member of the House Freedom of the Press caucus.
A day later, the then-chief White House strategist (who is now a member of the National Security Council) told the New York Times, “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.” This echoes sentiments the president himself has made several times. There are surely a lot of things to find alarming coming out of the White House; add the possible demise of the free press to the list.
Freedom of the press is an important part of our First Amendment rights. Americans deserve to be well informed about their country, and journalists deserve the right to espouse their opinions about the government. As Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” It is a cornerstone of our democracy.
Recent polls may have found that trust in the news media has greatly declined, but that doesn’t mean we should do away with it forever. Unfortunately, given the attacks from the executive branch (not only in interviews but also with the recent avowed cuts to the NEH and NEA), we may not have much of a press to defend someday soon.
Many governments have attacked, limited, or outright banned the free press over the years. It’s not usually a step taken by leaders who truly care about real freedom, and it’s often an early step in a list of actions that are much, much worse. If you’re not concerned about this yet, consider adding it to your list of new anxieties.
Institutionally, there may not be a lot librarians can do. If newspapers circulate in your library, consider ensuring that your subscriptions are to trustworthy publications (however you choose to define that). Consider the same for magazines. Per all recent librarian conversations, teaching information literacy is key.
Personally, however, I know that we librarians are a population that likes to be informed. Here are a few options to add to your own news resources, which may be places you can point patrons toward, if you’re so inclined:
My favorite news resource is AllSides, a website that presents each newsworthy issue with articles from left-leaning, center, and right-leaning news sources. You can easily keep up with the other side (whoever that is for you), and perhaps confront your own biases.
There are also whole host of non-profit news organizations who are committed to independent investigative journalism. These include the Center for Public Integrity, ProPublica, and the Ethical Journalism Network. A good source for international news is the Fair Observer, a UN partnered, non-profit outlet that seeks to elevate views from around the world, with the intention of giving people a more complete understanding of our world. It even has its own ISSN, courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Finally, it’s worth pointing out that if you’re truly concerned about how much you can trust U.S. news, for now, at least, you can always go to international news outlets. They may have their own biases and agendas, but at least they’ll be somewhat independent of U.S. laws and sanctions.
The free press is under attack. We need to defend it, as much as we can, in whatever ways we can. Given that free speech is tied to the right to be informed, this is a key fight for librarians. If we keep ourselves informed, and support news outlets that are committed to actually informing the public, we may have a real impact.
Sarah Hicks is a current MLIS student at the University of Pittsburgh, and works in a local public library. She has long been passionate about issues regarding intellectual freedom, and believes that these issues are becoming increasingly important worldwide, especially those related to privacy, surveillance, and censorship. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as certain stereotypes about librarians are not wholly untrue, she is both an avid reader (of many genres) and a total cat lady. Sarah can sometimes be found @exactlibrarian.