Barron: Information Is Not Free


By Morgan Barron, Opinion Writer

At the bottom of the Sunday paper in 1972, The Washington Post ran the article “Five Held in Plot to Bug Democrats’ Offices Here.” While not originally above-the-fold news, this article intrigued Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. The ensuing investigation led to the first Presidential resignation in United States’ history. More recently, the power of journalism was displayed when The New York Times’ Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey broke the Harvey Weinstein Scandal. While Weinstein has not been charged with rape or sexual assault since the allegations became public, he has been fired from the Weinstein Company and criminal investigations are ongoing. Their article also sparked the #MeToo movement, fundamentally changing how sexual harassment and assault is viewed, discussed and reported.

Our democratic society depends on journalists and reliable news sources. This is not a self-aggrandizing statement. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart told Yale students in 1974, “The primary purpose of the constitutional guarantee of a free press was … to create a fourth institution outside the Government as an additional check on the three official branches.” As shown by the Watergate and Weinstein reports, thorough media investigations change communities on local, national and global scales. Unfortunately, the virtue of the American free press is uncertain due to economic pressures facing our news organizations.

Eric Eyre of West Virginia’s Charleston Gazette-Mail won a Pulitzer “for courageous reporting, performed in the face of powerful opposition, to expose the flood of opioids flowing into depressed West Virginia counties with the highest overdose death rates in the country.” According to Gazette-Mail Executive Editor Rob Byers, winning this prize shows what a small paper can do when it has people who are dedicated to their community and to their profession. “I like to think of this award as the culmination of all the reporting done by many of our journalists over the past 17 years regarding prescription drug abuse.” But this past January, the owners of this same Gazette-Mail had to file Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

There is a misconception that only papers equivalent to community newsletters have been impacted by the decline in journalism. In actuality, papers from the Gazette-Mail to The New York Times have been financially struggling due to decreasing circulation and print advertising. While the populace may want information to be free, it is not. Undervaluing the contribution of tireless reporters, fact-checkers and editors is dangerous to our democracy.  

“The Post,” the movie adaptation of the judicial battle over The New York Times and The Washington Post publishing the Pentagon Papers, has been nominated for two Oscars, including Best Picture. This is not unprecedented. News dramas “Spotlight” and “Good Night and Good Luck” were successful during previous award seasons. However, the celebration of and support for journalists needs to occur before they appear on the silver screen. You can start by picking up one of the local or national papers provided on campus by University of Utah’s Collegiate Readership Program, ignoring clickbait media and challenging the idea of “fake news.” Hopefully, you will eventually value the fourth estate enough to pay the monthly $10 digital access fee for your favorite paper. As Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black wrote, “Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception.”

[email protected]