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Reader View: WIPP story shows why newspapers matter

Posted: Saturday, November 22, 2014 7:00 pm

By James McGrath Morris

Patrick Malone’s reporting on the radioactive waste issues at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (“Missteps and secrets,” Nov. 16) was an extraordinary piece of journalism. His careful research, his deliberative style, his use of examples, and his reasoned approach to a volatile story is an example of the best possible community journalism. It is award-winning reporting.

If New Mexicans wonder if a daily newspaper is still relevant in the age of tidbits from Yahoo News, bursts of characters on Twitter or hysterics on Fox, they need to look no further than Sunday’s edition of The New Mexican. There are no other independent institutions in our society capable and courageously willing to publish the kind of journalism exemplified by Malone’s work.

In short, Malone and The New Mexican serve as our watchdog, exposing what others in power would prefer that we not know. The news was bad, but we should be cheering that we have people like Malone in our corner. In Santa Fe, and in other places where vigorous newspapers still publish, reporters serve as a check on the abuse of power from school boards to the highest reaches of governments.

The kind of reporting they do differs from the hyper-charged television personalities who claim to uncover one outrageous government act a night. Rather, they tirelessly follow a story, long after the klieg lights of television have been turned off. Their efforts light the darkest recesses of government.

What Joseph Pulitzer said more than a century ago still remains true today. “An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it,” he said, “can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery.”

I have been a newspaper reader since I read my first Gasoline Alley comic strip in the 1950s. As an adult I worked as a journalist and later in life ended up writing books about journalism. Newspapers, today, are struggling to survive. A precipitous fall in advertising revenue and competition from other news sources have combined into a deadly one-two punch causing newspapers — dismissively labeled “legacy media” — to reel backward.

But if we value the work of reporters such as Malone, as well as the remarkably talented staff of The New Mexican, then we need to also value the paper as an important political, cultural and historical resource. That means subscribing to the paper, that means telling others who don’t about its importance, and venerating it as we do our other treasured institutions of heritage here in New Mexico.

James McGrath Morris is the author of Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power and the forthcoming Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, The First Lady of the Black Press.


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