In 1928, Frank Capra made a silent movie called “The Power of the Press.” Douglas Fairbanks Jr. played Clem Rogers, an ambitious cub reporter hungry for a scoop. He gets more than he bargained for when his big story implicates the mayor’s daughter – who just happens to be Clem’s girlfriend – in a murder.
In the end, the heroic journalist lands the story and the girl, and exposes political chicanery to boot. The film was selected in 2005 by the United States National Film Registry to be preserved by the Library of Congress because it was “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
We’re a long way from the age of silent movies, and the power of the press is being greatly affected by the changing media landscape.
“As news coverage democratizes and as producers proliferate, the fabled ‘power of the press’ may diminish,” warned Carl Session Stepp, University of Maryland journalism professor, in a recent article in American Journalism Review. “Without that power, how will news organizations stand up for journalists, such as those pushed around by police in Ferguson, Missouri, or targeted abroad by terrorists? Or against the Obama administration’s backward policies on leaks and secrecy?”
Those sorts of questions are why the theme of the 2015 National Newspaper Week — “The Power of the Press” – is so relevant.
This year is the 75th anniversary of National Newspaper Week. It was created in 1940 by the Newspaper Association Managers as a time to celebrate the newspaper industry.
The week, which this year runs Oct. 4-10, is a chance to remind our communities of what newspapers mean to them, by editorializing about our watchdog role, touting our coverage of local government and politics, and reiterating our commitment to providing reliable community information and public notice.
Of course, maintaining the power of the press doesn’t end with National Newspaper Week. It’s a year-round priority. We all know the power of the press is still a force to be reckoned with across this nation.
Jack McElroy is editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel and President of the Tennessee Press Association.