A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Constance Alexander: Local news organizations are an important part of the fabric of our communities

When photojournalist Joshua McKerrow was asked what plans the Capital Gazette had for going forward after the slaughter of five of the Annapolis newspaper’s employees, his answer was simple: “We’ll just get back to work,” he said. “You know, July 4 is next week. We’ve got to cover the parade.”

McKerrow answered without hesitation, with no thought that coverage of community news would lapse because one man ambushed workers in the newsroom and killed five of them.

The shooter held a years-long grudge regarding the Gazette’s coverage of his harassment of a former classmate from Arundel High School. Even though he pled guilty to the charge in 2011, he resented being the subject of a column about his crime. He was also infuriated when another column in the same paper featured an interview with the woman, who described how she’d been stalked online.

Watching our own local festivities on July 4, McKerrow’s statement, “We’ve got to cover the parade,” looped through my brain.

Just like it is every year on the fourth in Murray, Ky., traffic on Main Street was blocked starting around 9:00 a.m., with the parade scheduled to start at 9:30. The morning was already hotter than a bag of cats, and every side of the street was sunny and steamy. Toddlers slumped in their strollers, gleaming with sweat. Teens were too hot to text. The rest of us — fanning ourselves with whatever was handy — cheered as floats and marchers passed, especially the home-grown kazoo band.

After the Culligan Man and a garbage truck trundled by, the horses came up in the rear and the parade was over. The crowd dwindled to around fifty for the second annual reading of the Declaration of Independence, words once studied in school but now forgotten. Readers, some wearing DAR banners, clustered in the shade on the western side of the courthouse square until it was time to speak their parts.

Later that night, a community concert featuring local musicians and singers performed in Lovett Auditorium on the Murray State University campus. The place was packed, and no one complained at the chill of the full-blast air conditioning. Fireworks in the park capped off the evening, a stunning display of sparkling color and gut-thumping sound.

While some might say it wasn’t really news, reporters from our local newspaper, The Murray Ledger & Times, covered it all, starting at 7:30 a.m. with ceremonies at the local Veterans Memorial.

The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, assembly, and the press. The founders of America understood the crucial role of newspapers, even when they sometimes decried the stories told and disputed their veracity. Throughout history, people, in general, seem to like the news when they agree with it, and then complain about it when they disagree.

Nevertheless, we depend on local news to keep watch while we do other things. Who but the most civic-minded – or local reporters — regularly attend public meetings that can last through dinner and beyond, infringing on valuable couch time?

The people who get the news out in Murray, Ky., and in other towns across the country, don’t sweep in from some faraway place to tell us what is happening and then go back where they came from. They are friends, neighbors, colleagues; men and women we see at worship, PTA, soccer matches, and grocery shopping. When we stay home because there are tornado warnings, they are out taking pictures and gathering information.

Lately, the epithet of “fake news” is hurled about as easily as one of those Spaldeen balls we had as kids. Remember how high they could bounce? Even some public officials toss the “fake news” phrase about, deliberately sowing seeds of distrust.

July 4, 2018 was like many other Independence Days in Murray, but the local newspaper was there to cover the news, good, bad and ho-hum, much like those in Annapolis, Maryland, who were ambushed at work and killed, simply because they were doing their jobs.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray, Ky. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment