Journalism, like any other profession, requires a certain amount of continuing education.
There are courses and seminars available on writing, reporting, editing, layout and design. Over my career I have even had short courses on customer service.
But news of a course sent to us by our editor the other day takes the case.
Next week the National Press Foundation will hold a live webinar titled, “What to Do if You are Arrested or Assaulted.”
The newspaper business has changed dramatically in my 41 years. It used to be all we worried about was spelling, punctuation and where we were going for lunch, not self-defense.
But these are not easy times for journalists. The press is a target of opportunity, a barrage balloon at which politicians and other public figures frequently take potshots.
Over my four decades of ink-stained wretchedness I have been threatened a time or two, cursed at a number of times, chewed out, yelled at and insulted, and that was on the good days.
But assaulted? Never. Neither have I been arrested, for that matter, especially not for doing my job.
The email goes on to say, “How should journalists respond when they are shoved up against a wall, arrested for shouting questions, evicted from public spaces or body-slammed by politicians? In light of recent intimidation tactics and challenges to First Amendment rights, NPF is hosting a free one-hour webinar to offer guidance and resources on how to react if you find yourself in these circumstances.”
If I were assaulted, I would probably bleed, a lot. If I were arrested, I would probably complain, a lot. In either case I would wind up calling a lawyer.
How has it come to this, especially in a country whose Constitution guarantees press freedom? How was a congressional candidate in Montana able to get away with body slamming a reporter, punching him and breaking his glasses, merely because the reporter was asking questions about the Republican health care bill? And how was he able to win the special election in which he was running after doing so?
It’s a given that journalists are in great danger in many parts of the world. Thus far in 2017, 18 journalists have been killed worldwide, thankfully none in the United States. Yet.
There was one American journalist killed in 2016. Since 1992 there have been seven journalists murdered on U.S. soil.
There is growing anger, a groundswell of rage against members of the media steadily growing in this country, fostered in part by the attitude of the present White House administration.
But it is not just a threat of physical violence that faces journalists these days. In May in West Virginia, a broadcast journalist was arrested for persistently asking questions of Tom Price, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. The reporter, Dan Heyman, a broadcast journalist with Public News Service West Virginia, was arrested and charged with “willful disruption of government processes” after he shouted questions at Price and Kellyanne Conway, an adviser to President Donald Trump, at the West Virginia State Capitol in Charleston. Heyman repeatedly asked the pair whether domestic violence would be treated as a pre-existing condition under the house’s health care bill.
In April, someone left a hangman’s noose on the doorstep of the Sacramento Valley Mirror, a semiweekly newspaper in Willows, Calif., in response to a story about a woman who had hanged herself.
Rest assured the press is not going anywhere, despite any threats and attempts at intimidation that come our way. And what if we did? What then? Would you get your news from the Internet at large, where anybody with a pulse and an ax to grind can post any damn fool thing he pleases?
If the legitimate media goes away, who will tell you want you need to know, whether you want to know it or not?
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 548-8145.