Staff Columnist

National 'ball droppers' represented local reporters

Negative rhetoric on media is harming us all, home and abroad

An American flag is seen as revelers celebrate the New Year in Times Square in the Manhattan borough of New York on January 1, 2019. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)
An American flag is seen as revelers celebrate the New Year in Times Square in the Manhattan borough of New York on January 1, 2019. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

Americans saw some unusual faces on stage in Times Square this year for the iconic ball drop. They should have seen many more.

For more than a century, Americans have gathered in Times Square for New Year’s Eve. This year was a little bit different because a group of journalists was chosen as “ball drop” honorees. Why? This past year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, was one of the deadliest for members of the media, “a profound global crisis of press freedom.”

In its year-end report, the Committee counted 53 journalist killings between Jan. 1 and Dec. 14. The list includes 34 who were specifically targeted for their work, and that’s nearly double the figure from 2017.

A separate group, Reporters Without Borders counted 63 journalists slain — professional, nonprofessionals and media workers. Of those, 49 are believed dead because someone disagreed with their work.

Not surprisingly, both lists contain journalists who died in far-flung parts of the globe — people such as Washington Post columnist Jamal Khoshoggi as well as nine reporters in Afghanistan who died en masse at a suicide bombing. Terrorists have begun to target journalists and first responders with secondary explosions.

But this year’s list also strikes close to home with the inclusion of the names of five workers who were gunned down at the Capital Gazette in Maryland last June. It was the deadliest day for journalists in America since the Sept. 11 attacks claimed one freelancer and six broadcast engineers. It pushed the U.S. to the third-most risky place in the world to be a journalist — behind only Syria and Afghanistan — according to the Committee.

“Democratically elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning, but as an adversary to which they openly display their aversion … A media-bashing enthusiast, {President Donald} Trump has referred to reporters as ‘enemies of the people,’ the term once used by Josef Stalin,” noted an April report by Reporters Without Borders.

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So, in Times Square, the 60-second countdown was begun by Khashoggi’s editor, Karen Attiah. At her side was Rebecca Blumenstein of the New York Times, Alisyn Camerota of CNN, Lester Holt of NBC, Vladimir Duthiers of CBS, Edward Falsenthal of Time magazine, Matt Murray of the Wall Street Journal, Martha Raddatz of ABC and others. Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee, joined the group on stage as his organization was the official charity honoree of the celebration.

Simon said the group is “representative of all journalists in the United States, and around the world, who work hard every day to keep their communities informed and hold the powerful to account.”

That’s the message I hope American’s heard, and took with them into the New Year. Because even as most negative rhetoric is aimed at national figures like those on the stage, in the United States it has historically been journalists at local media outlets who have lost their lives.

Careless rhetoric emboldens, here at home and abroad, and we must strive to change the message in 2019.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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