EDITORIAL: Freedom Isn’t Free, and Neither is a Free Press


Keeping the lights on at your local news outlet requires readers to be financial partners.

By Matt Skoufalos | July 4, 2017

Inside Champion School, one of the oldest schoolhouses in the country, in Haddon Township. Credit: Matt Skoufalos.

NJ Pen readers have the benefit of living in some of the earliest settled territory in the United States.

We walk the roads laid out by our predecessors; stand in the shade of trees that once cooled them.

Their names are in our neighborhoods, on our public buildings.

The decisions they made, perhaps inscrutable to us through the centuries between, helped install the foundations of our communities.

We attach a certain nobility to their deeds because we don’t know any other way to judge them except by the fact that we are here now to do it. Even if we romanticize their existence, we know deep down that their lives, like our lives, could not all have been easy, uncomplicated, or beautiful.

We’re here with the fortune to discuss it openly because, for one thing, those people won the right to stay here; and for another, they enshrined for future generations the privilege of open public discussion. A free and independent press remains one of the dearest freedoms in our democracy, and sometimes it feels like one of the only liberties we still possess.

But like all liberties, it is fleeting if we do not preserve it in our words and deeds.

We are many long years removed from John Dunlap’s printing press, which produced the broadsheet copies of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, but not one day short of the necessity for it. Without the freedom to gather and publish information about the news of the day, we lose the ability to have informed, meaningful conversations about the world in which we live.

Ideas about the current conditions of journalism in New Jersey. Credit: Brad Resnick.

Nowadays, we enjoy generally unfettered access to the knowledge of the world, and we have grown accustomed to the ease of it.

That knowledge, like the freedom to share it, was not easily won, however.

It was gathered at a cost.

It was shared at a cost.

And if the ledger remains unbalanced, the system on which it was built will collapse.

If you value a free and independent press, you need to support it. That means paying for your news.

All the benefits that come from timely, verifiable, and relevant information about the world in which you exist, those details that stomp out rumor and clarify complicated or conflicting details to better shape your choices; all that may be freely accessible, but it is not free to produce.

We live in an age where good journalism is as valuable as any public utility, and when it’s shut off, we miss it as much as any functioning service.

Want to make your neighborhoods safer, keep your decision-makers accountable, and strengthen the community in which it costs so much to live? Pay your news bill like you pay your water, sewer, gas, and electric. Once that service is interrupted, we all suffer for want of it.

To those who get a bit of respite this day, may you spend it in the company of those you hold dear. To those whose work doesn’t allow it, may the time pass swiftly and easily. We will still hold the line—but you have to hold it with us.

Happy Fourth of July, everyone.

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