Last week, community newspaper publishers, editors, and executives across the United States resoundingly reaffirmed their commitment to a free press undisturbed by unannounced police raids.
Meeting in Washington, National Newspaper Association members representing community daily and weekly newspapers in 31 states took their concerns to Capitol Hill in their annual Community Newspaper Summit. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Summits were virtual. The 2023 event was the first in-person gathering since 2019.
NNA Chair John Galer, publisher of The Journal-News, Hillsboro, Illinois, discussed his visit to the Marion County Record in Kansas, shortly after local police raided the Record’s newsroom and seized computers, phones, and records.
National Newspaper Association criticized the police action hours after the raid. But Galer recommended that NNA restate its long-standing commitment to journalists’ rights to confidentiality.
By acclamation, publishers adopted a new resolution that updated positions taken in the 1970s when newsroom raids were last visible on the national scene. Many publishers during the conference discussed heightened levels of threat to the free press.
Galer said: “Although most in our communities highly value our local news and information, there is no question that the national atmosphere has encouraged extremists to come out of the woodwork to threaten our existence.”
“We were very sad to watch the Marion County Record get crippled by the acts of one local police department, but the saddest part is that we were not surprised. “
“We watch local newspapers close every year because of economic and security threats. It is time for us to speak up with our loudest voices: community newspaper journalism is the glue that holds local democracies together. We must ask our readers, policymakers, and local leaders to support our work.”
Before moving into a two-day convention with dozens of exhibits, workshops, and educational programs sponsored by the NNA Foundation, the publishers fanned across a Capitol Hill that was nervously preparing for a possible government shutdown.
Publishers asked Members of Congress to support two important journalism bills — the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, S 1094, to force large social media platforms to pay for the journalism they take from newspapers — and the Community News and Small Business Support Act, HR 4756, which would provide tax credits for small businesses to advertise in their local newspapers.
The newspaper executives also asked Congress to direct federal agencies to more effectively use community newspapers in their advertising programs. And they requested attention to postage rates that have risen by 40% since 2021.
The next NNAF Convention will be in Omaha, Nebraska, September 26 – 28, 2024. The date of the next Summit will be announced shortly.
The full text of the First Amendment resolution is below:
Whereas, an invasion of the Marion County Record’s newsroom by local police in August, 2023, directed international attention to the imperiled rights of journalists to gather and disseminate news to the public; and Whereas, recent reports of similar investigations, raids, censorship orders and seizures of journalists’ work product have focused national attention upon the need for constant vigilance in support of First Amendment rights; NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the publishers, editors, reporters, photographers and supporters of thousands of community newspapers across America stand firmly behind the US Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of the press and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that lawmakers, enforcement agencies and stakeholders in American freedoms hold a civic obligation to inform themselves of journalists’ First Amendment rights.