Judy Patrick


Police Attacks on Journalists Covering Protests Are Outrageous

Reuters security advisor Rodney Seward is treated by a medic for a deep gash under his left eye after being struck by a rubber bullet during nationwide unrest following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S, May 30, 2020. REUTERS TV/Julio-Cesar Chavez

Within the journalism community, there’s outrage over the assaults our fellow journalists have endured covering the unrest in America sparked by the death of a black man, George Floyd, in police custody in Minneapolis.

We recognize that those reporters are bearing witness to the events unfolding before them. They are there to hold those in power accountable for their actions. Attacks on journalism diminish the people’s right to the truth about what government is doing in their name. This is serious and needs to be addressed.

But let’s be frank. Protesters, business owners and police officers are being attacked as well. There’s plenty of violence to go around, especially when night falls.

America’s outrage is focused, as it should be, on the racial injustices that permeate our society. To seriously address these fundamental problems, demonstrations and protests need to be followed by lots of dialogue, education, research and real change.

Yet to be successful, the sun must shine on that process. We need to build understanding and consensus, and for that we will need journalists every step of the way. Without them, we will fail.

The ongoing attacks on journalists in America, especially by police, is truly unprecedented. To be sure, journalists in many other countries face far more adversity. But this is America, the leader of the free world, where the free press is one of our fundamental values and sets the standard.

Covering protests, especially chaotic ones, has always been tough. Reporters are used to getting jostled, taunted and sometimes threatened with arrest. And while the level of aggression has been increasing in the last decade, the number of attacks of the past few days are far beyond anything we have ever seen before.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, run by the Freedom of the Press Foundation and the Committee to Protect Journalists, typically investigates 100 to 150 incidents of attacks on U.S. journalists a year.  On Monday, the group was investigating more than 100 incidents from the first three days of the current protests alone.

Journalists don’t like becoming part of the story. It’s a distraction from the central story, which in this case is the unprecedented display of national outrage sparked by systemic racial discrimination.

But it is because the central story is so important that these shameful attacks must be called out and denounced. Other countries may be able to control and limit their press by intimidation and violence but that can’t be allowed to happen here in America.

Journalists are getting pushed and shoved, shot by rubber bullets and pepper balls, assaulted with pepper spray and tear gas, punched, slapped, detained and arrested. Some of this is happening live on air, before our eyes.

The danger can come from either direction. Some protesters are targeting journalists, hurling rocks and other debris at them, knocking them down, beating them and setting their vehicles on fire.

Why this is happening should be no big surprise. Since taking office, President Trump has put a big fat “enemy of the people” stamp on every journalist’s forehead. He affirmed it with a tweet at the height of the protests this past weekend. He’s done more than give the attackers license to act; he’s emboldened them.

This is about far more than journalists’ personal safety. This is about democracy. This is about the public’s right to know. This is about an institution that, despite its lapses, strives to help us build a better society.

 Judy Patrick is vice president for editorial content at the New York Press Association.

Related Story: Blaming The Media Is Not A Cure For Coronavirus

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Communities Need Their Newspapers, And Newspapers Need Their Community

Photo by Jon S

From afar, the COVID-19 pandemic is generating news of such terrifying magnitude that it is nearly too overwhelming to comprehend. Millions are suffering and thousands are dying. Economies are collapsing. The world seems out of control.

That’s the big picture, which you can learn about from innumerable print, web, and broadcast news outlets.

But it’s in the pages of local newspapers that this terrible news hits home.

Through stories of sickness and of death, of brave healthcare workers and struggling small business owners, local journalists are documenting their communities.

In hard-hit New York City, dozens of local newspapers are chronicling the challenges neighborhood by neighborhood. As the virus spreads beyond metropolitan New York, the chronicling extends, paper by paper.

In each, above all are the stories of the lives that have been lost, touching tributes to much loved grandfathers and grandmothers, principals and store clerks, police officers and nurses.

Next come the stories of isolation and loss as the life of a community is put on hold: Funerals, weddings, Little League baseball, high school proms, senior citizen trips and college graduations. The list goes on and on.

Finally come are the tales of generosity and hope, of thousands of rainbows hung in windows and drawn in chalk on sidewalks, of food drives for the afflicted, of music and art and of the million small kindnesses of one person to another.

Years from now, these stories will be part of the historical record of this pandemic. Right now, however, they serve a far greater purpose: They are helping communities come together to mourn, to support and to hope. To eventually go forward and heal, we first need to understand what is happening to the people we know and the businesses we rely on.

Local newspapers are also where many stories begin. Here you’ll learn about upstate dairy farmers forced to dump milk, how Finger Lakes wineries are adapting to the shutdown, the slow startup to the federal small business stimulus program on the East End of Long Island, the re-tooling of a Granville slate company to make face shields for healthcare workers and efforts to safeguard our food supply chain by protecting farmland.

These are the stories that set local newspapers apart from anything you’ll see and read via bigger outlets. Each paper is telling its community’s unique set of stories about death and heroism and struggle. And for communities in crisis, this personalization is key to grappling with this pandemic.

There are practical benefits as well. In times of crisis, local newspapers have long been a clearinghouse of essential information such as phone numbers, emergency food distribution plans, road closures and boil water orders. Nowadays, with much of this information scattered online, newspapers are adapting and collating. Take The Daily News and Livingston County News in Batavia, for example. They’ve established a COVID-19 Community Support Map pinpointing locations of blood drives, food pickup spots and medical services. The map quickly became the most popular feature on the paper’s website.

All of this is how local newspapers bring communities together. It’s just one reason they’re so important. While their watchdog role in sustaining our democracy will always be paramount, and one that’s become a crucial part of the ongoing story, this shared commitment to community is shining right now.

Local newspapers care – always have and always will. It’s what sets them apart from all other media, even Facebook. They will be at the zoning board meeting you care about, at your Fourth of July parade, and your high school graduation. They will write about the kindergarten class trip to the pumpkin farm as well as the school budget, food banks for the hungry as well as which takeout joint has the best burgers.

They’ve been around so long it’s easy to take them for granted. But they are in danger, especially now that local businesses that provide crucial advertising revenue  have closed.

There’s a lot of news you can access for free. Many local newspapers have even temporarily dropped their paywalls on their virus-related content. The gesture reflects their mission to go above and beyond to serve their communities in a time of crisis.

But news really isn’t free. It’s costly to produce. Reporters, photographers, editors, printers, advertising representatives, and support staff deserve and need a paycheck for the work they do. To do that, newspapers need the people in those Fourth of July parades and at those school board meetings to subscribe. Now, more than ever, they need their communities.

Judy Patrick is vice president for editorial development of the New York Press Association

It’s Time Americans Learned About The First Amendment

First Amendment of the US Constitution

The First Amendment isn’t getting the appreciation and respect it deserves. Increasingly battered and misunderstood, it needs all the support it can get as divisive politics and advancing technologies drag us in new directions.

Many Americans don’t even know the basics.

Of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment, 71 percent of Americans can name at least one, according to the 2019 State of The First Amendment poll by the nonprofit Freedom Forum Institute.

That’s certainly an improvement over 2018, when a pitiful 60 percent of those polled could name at least one of the five freedoms. But consider this: Of the 1,007 Americans polled for the 2019 survey, just six people correctly named all five freedoms.

In case the pollsters call you next year: The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, the press, religion, the right to petition, and the right to assembly.

Better yet: We all need to work harder at being citizens who understand our rights, our responsibilities, how government works and what we value.

These powerful First Amendment freedoms, for example, give us all the courage to be independent thinkers and to live our lives how we want to. They allow us to challenge authority in ways unheard of in so many other parts of the world. It enables the press to act independently, hold government accountable, and tilt at the occasional windmill.

Gene Policinski, president of the Freedom Forum Institute, said these freedoms help define who we are as Americans. For him, the First Amendment is the “blue collar amendment” – because it’s such a workhorse, going to work every day in a real down-to-earth way.

Yet confusion is increasing. More people in this year’s survey incorrectly thought the First Amendment includes the right to vote (up to 14 percent from 2 percent in 2018) and the right to bear arms (up to 16 percent from 9 percent in 2018).

There is some good news. The poll did not find substantial erosion in trust in journalism with 72 percent of those polled agreeing that it’s important for our democracy that the news media act as a government watchdog, down from 73 percent in 2018. Policinski, however, worries that result may be skewed, reflecting people’s loyalty to their individual “information bubbles.”

The emergence of powerful social media platforms has also muddied the waters; 65 percent of those polled agreed that social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter violate users’ First Amendment rights when they ban people. They don’t. The First Amendment’s protections apply to the government, not private companies.

Freedom of Speech, Norman Rockwell, Oil on canvas, Saturday Evening Post, February 20, 1943. Licensed by Curtis Publishing, Indianapolis, IN; Norman Rockwell Museum Collection.

But the First Amendment presents us with all sorts of emotional and intellectual challenges. It’s easy to support free speech when we agree with what’s being said. It’s far more challenging when we disagree or abhor what is being said, printed, painted, built or sung.

Indeed, the First Amendment has challenged us as a society as we have debated topics such as school prayer, flag burning, printing classified information, curfews, the teaching of evolution, protests at military funerals, blue laws, Christmas displays in public parks, and mandatory measles vaccinations.

The rhetoric around such issues can be alienating. An increasing number of us, for example, think the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees (29 percent in 2019, up from 23 percent in 2018 and 2017).

Maybe we just need another Norman Rockwell for an idealistic re-boot.

In the 1940s, as the U.S. headed into what would become World War II, Rockwell’s series of freedom paintings helped Americans understand the freedoms at stake. His four iconic works captured parts of the First Amendment (freedom of speech and religion) and added the freedoms to be free of want and fear.

Despite President Franklin Roosevelt’s oratory, the “four freedoms” he outlined in 1941 speech failed to resonate with the public in a meaningful way. For help, the White House reached out to the nation’s artists and musicians.

“[Rockwell] wanted to interpret them in a way the average American could understand,” said Stephanie Plunkett, chief curator of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass.

But it was a challenge. “The Four Freedoms are so darned high blown. Somehow I just couldn’t get my mind around it,” Rockwell is quoted as saying.

But by using scenarios from real life in small-town America, did just that. Rockwell’s “Freedom of Speech,” featuring a man standing up and speaking up in a crowded meeting room, was based on an actual town meeting in Arlington, Vt. The man was a farmer unhappy with a school project that would increase his taxes.

“He gave his opinion, nodded his head and sat down,” Plunkett said.

Rockwell’s idealistic “Four Freedoms” have remained popular, both providing a sense of what led America to World War II and as underscoring ideals that remain important throughout in the world, Plunkett said.

Judy Patrick is executive VP for editorial development at the New York Press Association.

A special touring exhibit, “Rockwell, Roosevelt & The Four Freedoms: Enduring Ideals,” has been on display in Normandy, France, since May as part of the 75th commemoration of the D-Day invasion.

The exhibit returns to the U.S. from France this fall, making stops in Houston and Denver before returning home next fall. Here are the details: Le Memorial de Caen, Caen, France, through Oct. 27; Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas Dec. 15, 2019 through March 22, 2020; Denver Art Museum, Denver, May 3, 2020 through Aug. 23, 2020; Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass., Sept. 12, 2020 through Jan. 17, 2021.