Power of the Pen

The value of journalism in the age of Trump—or any age

Last week, we learned the Bohemian won three first or second place awards from the California Newspaper Publishers Association for stories written in 2016. The awards will be announced May 20.

Tom Gogola’s story “Condemned Men Talking” (Jan. 15), about life on San Quentin’s death row, earned a nomination in the best writing category and was one of my favorite stories of the year. In the local government category, regular Bohemian contributor Will Parrish was recognized for his story “Crude Awakening” (June 8), about new rules to prevent Canadian tar sands oil production in Bay Area refineries. And my story “Of Water and Wine” (June 15), about development pressures on water resources in Napa County received a nomination in the environmental coverage category.

These are tough times for journalism, given the anti-constitutional bent of Donald Trump and his henchmen and their criticism of reporting that isn’t favorable of them. But for as long as I’ve been in journalism—20 years—the times have always been tough. Newsrooms and budgets continue to shrink. Competition for ad revenue is more fierce than ever. And that darned internet, with its firehose of “news,” looks like it here’s to stay. Toughest of all, we’re told fewer people actually read newspapers on a regular basis. Not exactly a rosy picture.

And yet, somehow, reporters continue to tell compelling, crucial stories that hold the powerful accountable. This week, Pulitzer prizes for journalism were announced (we didn’t get one—next year!), and the list of winning stories should be a source of pride for every American who believes in the importance of the First Amendment. The stories include coverage of the Oakland Ghost Ship fire by the East Bay Times, and Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold’s stories on Trump’s bogus claims of generosity toward charities.

I don’t know about you, but I feel a little better knowing that there are reporters out there willing to dig in and cause trouble. In a democracy, there is no alternative to a free press.

Stett Holbrook is editor of the ‘Bohemian.’

Open Mic is a weekly feature in the ‘Bohemian.’ We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write [email protected].

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