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The importance of the news, past and present

Really, what is news? With entertainment, advertising and self promotion so much a part of the mix now on all platforms, it’s sometimes hard to tell. But whether it’s local, statewide, national or international, it should be information that is relevant and useful to our lives, shouldn’t it? Otherwise, we would be hard-pressed to see it as important. We should be able to judge that for ourselves, and know why it’s better for us to know certain things than to be ignorant of them. 

Though, with a president who berates a free press and makes it clear he sees it as useless, it’s hard to know if Americans can figure out what actually is critical for them to know any more. It doesn’t help that news outlets too often follow the same stories, chasing one another’s tails rather than doing responsible and independent newsgathering (see Dick Ahles’ column this week). 

The fact remains that in a free country, a free press is critical to finding and revealing information people need to know.  And the news is, as The Washington Post’s Alan Barth, Phil Graham and others have noted, the first rough draft of history. So if human history holds any importance, so does the work of the fourth estate.

It was the idea of the nonprofit Freedom Forum to begin a museum dedicated to the history of the First Amendment and a free press, which opened in Washington, D.C. in 2008. Now, the Newseum has, according to Axios, The Washington Post and wide news outlets, sold its building to Johns Hopkins University for $372.5 million. This will allow it to survive under another form, once it closes its doors at the end of 2019. And it will allow Johns Hopkins to have a significant presence in the center of Washington, at 555 Pennsylvania Ave. So it is progress for an educational institution that gathers money more easily than journalism does. 

A run of a decade for the Newseum seems short, compared to other such enterprises, giving credence to the argument the idea could have been better implemented. There was the challenge of the place being adjacent to the Smithsonian’s multiple locations that are free to the public, whereas the Newseum charged an admission fee and still lost money every year. And from 2008 to the present, the public has become increasingly resistant to paying for access to the news, whether historical or current. The chair of the board of the Newseum said in a release that its work will continue in the form of online school programs and traveling exhibits while it looks for a new space to present its collection of news artifacts. 

It seems important to have a sense of a nation’s history that was reported in the moment if one is to understand its present and future. Let’s all try to keep up with the news that’s important to us now, locally, nationally and internationally. It’s the only way to create and maintain a group of informed citizens, who have not necessarily been educated in how to be civically engaged. But that engagement is the only thing that will keep democracy vibrant and responsive to the needs of all its people. 

Visit the Newseum before it disappears. The online experience isn’t quite the same as seeing historical documents in person. And look for The Lakeville Journal among the newspapers that have their front pages posted there every week.