On Independence Day I usually dispense with the overwrought, warmed-over patriotic platitudes that come with the quintessential American holiday.
The American Revolutionary figure who in my mind best lives up to the ideals of what transpired on July 4, 1776 was Thomas Paine, a quintessential outsider.
Since I’m a fierce independent in so many ways, especially now as a post-newsroom journalist, I thought I’d shamelessly pile on the Paine bandwagon. (But not as shamelessly and absurdly, I hope, as Glenn Beck.)
Paine didn’t just talk a good game about freedom and liberty and egalitarianism; he truly lived it, nearly died because of it and was vilified on both sides of the Atlantic for doing so.
I write this because one of the primary ideals that pulled me into the profession, the need to question and scrutinize authority, is in desperate need of renewal. More worryingly, the powerful media institutions charged to watchdog have been squandering that duty in astonishing fashion.
The journalistic aristocracy is crumbling, and not just because of its refusal to prepare for the future. As it dumps more journalists out on to the streets, it obliviously tries to sell itself for a wad of cash.
The same paper whose journalism fearlessly revealed a White House that had defiled the Constitution was caught trying to auction off access to those same corridors of power, as well as to its own journalists. The targeted buyers: Corporate and agenda-driven lobbyists.
And still, even after this ploy was first reported (by new media!) and eventually aborted, newsroom staffers spoke largely off-the-record, for fear of being openly critical of a practice that would subvert the very independence they are expected to demonstrate in their jobs.
The economy is brutal and the job market is practically barren and I may be overly zealous like Paine but also foolishly quixotic in thinking I can practice journalism on my own terms. I know some people who have, but the odds are long and the time in which they accomplished this feat was not short.
But at least for one Fourth of July, I’m able to celebrate my independence as a journalist. As an individual, I’m relieved to have freed myself from the old, decrepit ways of thinking/acting/existing, and the fear that bolsters them.