The Carroll Times Herald is fighting for its life. The small Iowa newspaper incurred thousands of dollars in legal bills and other expenses, while fighting a libel lawsuit from a police officer Jacob Smith. Smith resigned in 2017 amid the newspaper’s investigation into his relationships with teenage girls and women.
The lawsuit was thrown out, but the paper still is struggling with lost revenue and legal bills. To help the paper survive, Carroll Times Herald co-owner and Vice President Douglas Burns launched a GoFundMe campaign, which has already raised $87,000 toward its $140,000 goal. Writing on the GoFundMe page Burns argues, “Standing up to the patriarchy, particularly in a rural reach of the nation, and especially now, is a financially perilous choice, one fraught with pressures from a host of sources and power centers, many of whom sought to kill the story and then retaliated against the newspaper.”
Local journalism is essential to the survival of our democracy. And whether you love us or call us fake news, local journalism is often the only way to keep a check on power at all levels of our government. The Carroll Times Herald investigation proves just that.
Yet, across America the independence of the media is under attack. The President has declared the press “the enemy of the people.” And 2018 saw unprecedented attacks on the media with pipe bombs and shootings. Journalists out reporting stories are often faced with sneers and threats and stonewalling from citizens and even government officials who ought to answer for their laws, policies and conduct. Since 2004, more than 2,000 newspapers in the United States have closed. Half of the counties in America only have one newspaper, which is often the only reliable source for information in a community.
The survival of American newspapers depends on an engaged readership who are willing to support local journalism with their clicks, eyeballs, and subscriptions. It also relies on a people in power passing laws that prevent retaliation for speaking out on a public issue or controversy. Legal retaliation with the intent to chill free speech is also known as SLAPP, which stands for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.” Iowa does not have anti-SLAPP protections, which means editors and publishers often have to weigh the financial survival of their company when it comes to reporting on powerful people and organizations.
The Carroll Times Herald faced that choice and stood on the side of the truth. And they are paying for it. Iowans can’t let this happen. Because in the end, our voice is your voice.
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