Editorial: We Are the People

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We are not the enemy of the people, although even a small community weekly like The Sag Harbor Express has not escaped the shadow of doubt and mistrust purposefully seeded in the minds of citizens by the current administration in the White House.

As a community newspaper, we have largely been sheltered from direct and frequent attacks aimed at media organizations covering national news and politics, although certainly not oblivious to blatant attempts to cast doubt on the truthfulness of honest reporting in what will likely go down as one of the most divisive times in our country’s history. The time to be quiet about this attempt to compromise one of the most important facets of our democracy — a free and independent press — is over.

Since 1859, The Sag Harbor Express has brought the news of this community — and beyond — to its readership, making it one of the oldest newspapers on Long Island. We cover our own community, from business to government to arts and culture, births and deaths, triumphs and defeats both great and small, but nonetheless important in our corner of this world.

Immediately after President Donald Trump took office, a dangerous rhetoric labeling news media “the enemy of the American people” emerged and has only become more relentless with each passing month. Mainstream press is regularly labeled purveyors of “fake news” virtually any time reporters covering national politics uncover what is even remotely viewed as an unfavorable story.

Admittedly, at first, we believed over time that this rhetoric would be dismissed as silly, political jargon with a clear endgame: discredit the very people who are charged with bringing truth into the light. Whether you are a Democrat or Republican, staunch Libertarian or devout Socialist, we believe most understand that a free and independent press is a cornerstone of our democracy. While journalism, as in any field, may have its bad actors, most are hardworking and honest — aware of the gravity and importance of the printed word, and mindful of the great responsibility one carries when working in this profession.

That said, no one in news media expects to be free of criticism — quite the opposite, in fact. But when criticism ceases to be based in fact, or even a small measure of productive thought, one has to question the motive. On August 5, President Trump tweeted that “the Fake News … purposely cause great division & distrust. They can also cause War! They are very dangerous & sick.” This is a hateful attack on the profession as a whole and an attempt to further erode the public’s trust in the work we do day in and day out.

This week, we join a national movement of journalists coming together on editorial pages to state this clearly: we encourage debate, we welcome criticism and we are not perfect — we make mistakes, we correct our errors and learn from those moments — but we are not the enemy of the American people. We are the people. We aren’t fake news. We are your news and we struggle night and day to get the facts right. We are members of the media, but we are also a part of your community. We shop at the IGA, the Wharf Shop and the Variety Store. We struggle to keep up with the changing economics of the East End, and worry about how we will retire.

In community journalism, the work we do is a labor of love because we are working in the place we live, the place we raise our children; but, more importantly, because we understand that we play a vital role in our democracy. Self-governance demands a well-informed populace, the ability of journalists to hold people in power accountable for their actions.

And all along, our loyalties are with you: our readers. Our work is guided by a set of principles that demand objectivity, independence, open-mindedness and the pursuit of the truth.

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