Sarah Stultz: What would it be like without journalists?

Published 10:05 am Tuesday, February 28, 2017

It started for me a little more than a year ago.

A reporter and photographer from the Tribune traveled down to Clear Lake to cover Donald Trump, who at that time was still a candidate for president.

Within the first 30 minutes of his speech, Trump pointed to the back of the room, where all of the photographers and TV camera crews were placed — including the Tribune’s own photographer — and made a claim that these were some of the most dishonest people in the world.

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A crowd of more than 1,500 people clapped and cheered, and others booed the reporters.

At one point, someone in the back of the room threw food at the reporters — some of it landing on our own photographer.

I remember being disappointed that someone who at that time was a candidate for president would have encouraged this type of behavior. It questioned my career as a journalist, but even more importantly, it questioned a value I strive to live with every day: integrity.

As I have watched things unfold with now-President Trump, I learned that similar experiences have happened all across the country, and this was just the beginning.

On Friday, the attacks were taken to a new level, when Trump described media, including CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC, as an “enemy of the American people.” The White House barred reporters from several major media outlets, including CNN, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, from participating in a press briefing, while pool reporters and conservative-leaning outlets could still attend. The Associated Press and Time magazine chose to boycott attending in solidarity with those outlets.

Sally Buzbee, executive editor with the Associated Press, said she described the incident was getting into “dangerous territory.”

“There is always physical limitations on access,” she said. “There is always compromises that we make and sort of concessions that are made for physical limitations and other things.

“I think, when you get to the point where there are news organizations that seem to be being deliberately excluded, I think that’s different. We felt today was different.”

She went on to say that if there are going to be exclusions, essentially all access in the end would suffer.

In an interview Monday on NBC’s “Today” show, former President George W. Bush defended the media, stating a free press was “indispensable to democracy.”

“We need an independent media to hold people like me to account,” he said during the interview. “Power can be very addictive, and it can be corrosive, and it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power.”

Though it has been a disheartening weekend to be a journalist, it inspires me even more to continue to do my job.

My goal is to do what the American Press Institute states, and that is to “provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies and their governments.”

We strive to keep people informed of things going on in the community and world and to empower our readers with knowledge.

What would it be like without journalists? I am saddened to even think about it.

Sarah Stultz is the managing editor of the Tribune. Her column appears every Tuesday.