CNPA statement on journalists and coverage

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Courtesy Photo.

This is a time of unparalleled discord. We are rightly horri­fied by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. We are legitimately frustrated by a pandemic that has threatened lives and livelihoods in unprec­edented magnitude. We sym­pathize with protests, but like most others we cannot compre­hend or condone violent attacks on fellow citizens and their property.

Through it all, first respond­ers have bravely dealt with dis­ease, unrest and violence. That group of heroes includes news reporters: men and women who arrive at the front lines armed with pens, tablets and smart­phones, who rush to danger­ous scenes so we might know what’s at risk, what choices we have, and what resources are accessible. They deserve the same kind of respect and pro­tection against harassment and harm that we afford police, fire and health workers.

I’ve been an eyewitness as head of the 400-member Cali­fornia News Publishers Associ­ation. Reporters are parked at the scene gathering the news, risking infection and bodily harm, and filtering fact from fiction so that we might act in lifesaving ways for our good and the good of all our neigh­bors.

This work of gathering news and telling stories is less dra­matic, perhaps, than a medic caring for a coronavirus patient in ICU or a fireman racing to the fire. But it is no less im­pactful. For journalists are the conduit for informed engage­ment, which is the lifeblood of our democracy. From their pens come the impetus that moves entire populations to think, to decide, to act.

To fully understand the im­port of such service, we need only visit the stories in our lo­cal news outlets filed by cor­respondents in harm’s way. These aren’t just first drafts of history. They are the tran­scripts of the warnings, dreads, pleas and consolations that in­form communities and provide the raw material for both de­cision-making and community resolve.

What makes these drafts so powerful is their honesty in the face of tragedy. It is the work of first responders trained in truth-telling, plying their skills to inject our understanding with facts so that we can more ably ward off fears from the un­known and the unfounded.

The point is that news out­lets — and the reporters who have braved their way into the places where virus spreads and chaos erupts — are critical to public safety and community well-being. Indeed, their stories are the proof points that inform and instigate our engagement in the resolution to problems ranging from systemic racism to economic hardship.

During these times, it is vi­tal that communities continue to have access to the type of authoritative information that journalists provide. They must be protected from violence while engaging in newsgather­ing activities. Additionally, to the extent public officials de­cide that curfew orders are nec­essary to protect public safety, the media must be designated as essential and specifically ex­empt from these orders.

At this moment in time, we pray that the work of journal­ists in California will be the catalyst that augurs for rec­ognition of our biases and a meaningful effort to change them.

Chuck Champion is presi­dent and CEO of the Sacra­mento-based California News Publishers Association.