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Protecting Journalists Means Protecting Yourself

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"History will have to record the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the vitriolic words and other violent actions of the bad people but the appalling silence and indifference of the good people. Our generation will have to repent not only the words and acts of the children of darkness but also for the fears and apathy of the children of light." – DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.

During this presidential inauguration week, that falls thankfully just after Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the country is fraught with controversy over the alleged hacking of the election and the influence of foreign governments on our political process It's a good time to pause and reflect upon the state of the fourth arm of government—the media.

Journalism has faced multiple roadblocks to its survival over past decades. With the advent of the Internet, many media outlets folded as they struggled unsuccessfully to adapt to the digital landscape. There are now fewer journalists on the ground than during previous administrations. An additional Internet-related challenge comes as all established media outlets are being denigrated with the "fake news" label that sprang to life during the last election cycle. Whether you leaned right or left, red or blue, chances are you fell victim and clicked on at least one of those clickbait sites or newsletters which offered up your worst fears about the opposition, without any substantive facts to back up their aspersions.

It is a dangerous generalization to lump all media together and to categorically disregard the press as the medium for a lot of useless chatter. Adding to the perception and pressure is the President-elect, who has shown a tendency in this direction by denying press credentials to long-established media outlets for being critical of his policies and appointments. Ultimately, when in doubt about the validity of a claim on the Internet, it is back to the long-established media outlets that readers go, where input from real journalists with journalism degrees trump "search skills."

It is during these times that the profession of researching and reporting is most important. Nothing serves people in power better than media outlets packing it in and giving up under the threat of less access or outright refusal to be accountable.

The President-elect has also promised to "open up our libel laws" to make it easier to prosecute journalists in a further effort to intimidate accountability. Thankfully, most experts on the First Amendment continue to believe that will be next to impossible – but you never know.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

It is in these all-important words that we continue to trust in uncertain times. When the unrest created by the rhetoric of political posturing leaves you overwhelmed, lean back on these words, and do what you can to protect them. Whether you're a Christian, a Muslim or a Sikh; whether you're black, white, Native or mixed; whether you're a journalist, an activist, or simply a resident of this nation, they apply to us all. We are all the "good people" to whom Dr. King's words—and the words of the First Amendment—are addressed.

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