Preserve Independent Media in the US and Abroad

by Jennifer Karchmer

On Jan. 7, 2015, while in Paris visiting a fellow American journalist, I was as shocked as the rest of the world when an Islamist terrorist group attacked the offices of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper killing 12 people. My friend and I were sightseeing and just before noon, heard lots of sirens but thought it was only a routine call. When we returned to our flat in the Latin Quarter near Place Monge in the 5th arrondissment, (promptly checking our Facebook pages after depriving ourselves of hours of social media), we learned we had been very close to the attack. This was Paris, I thought — a safe, cosmopolitan city, “La Ville Lumière,” “The City of Light.” I was nowhere near Syria, Iraq or Egpyt, some of the most dangerous places to work as a journalist, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Through my work as a volunteer correspondent with Reporters Without Borders (RWB) since 2010, I had been researching critical regions where journalists were being attacked, detained, kidnapped and killed and France wasn’t on that list. I had travelled to the Paris headquarters of RWB several times over the past few years to provide input on the annual freedom of the press index, which ranks countries based on a journalist’s ability to do her job unencumbered. France was not on the critical list. If Paris is a place of danger, “What is next?” we thought as we watched the news unfold.

Back to the US
The following day I took my return flight to the U.S., entering at JFK Airport in New York. I felt a sigh of relief as the plane touched down safely. Land of the free (press)? I have worked as a reporter and editor since 1991 and have never been physically threatened doing my job. I don’t live with the threat of a car bomb going off when I turn the ignition in my car, like reporters in Mexico or Cuba do. Thankfully, I feel safe doing my job.

But we live with a different kind of threat in the U.S., one of corporate censorship and the lurking danger of conglomerates swallowing up smaller, once-independent organizations. The first 15 years of my news career, I spent hopscotching among mainstream outlets – McClatchy (owner of The Bellingham Herald), Gannett, CNN and AOL, rewriting press releases and glorified advertisements for new businesses disguised as news stories.

Who Owns What?
If you want to see how widespread corporate ownership of media is today, go to the Columbia Journalism Review “Who Owns What” webpage at Go to the drop-down window and see “Select a Media Company.” For fun, if you choose “21st Century Fox,” you see that it owns close to 200 cable, film, TV and satellite TV companies.

Thankfully, we have national independents like Democracy Now!, Mother Jones and ProPublica. Whatcom Watch falls into the independent media category, in print since 1992, and with a newly-designed website. Financial support comes from subscriptions, donations and local businesses that choose to pay for advertisements. Whatcom Watch prints articles that we hope can affect local change. Take for example more than 10 articles published since 2011 about the Lummi Island Quarry becoming a protected nature preserve. Local residents quashed a potential expansion (see Whatcom Watch, Oct/Nov. 2015 “Kitchen Table Activism: From Hard Rock Mine to Nature Preserve,” by Meredith Moench) and we’d like to think that having their stories in print is just one example of how people who spoke up, and used the medium of the newspaper, got their voices heard.

Support Indy Media
This month Whatcom Watch partners with another local independent organization, The Pickford Film Center (PFC) in Bellingham, to bring a documentary that highlights freedom of the press and freedom of speech, (see page 2, “Special Doc Screening in Bellingham”).
To celebrate the printed word, independent speech and your right to express original ideas, please join us on Thurs., Jan. 28, 2016 at 6:30 p.m. at the PFC. If you can’t make the screening, please consider a donation or becoming one of the many newspaper subscribers (see page 20, “Subscribe to Whatcom Watch”). Think of Whatcom Watch as more than a newspaper; it’s a community and you can join the Whatcom Watch Facebook page too, which has more than 700 members. With continued financial support from you – residents and locally-owned businesses, Whatcom Watch can continue to bring coverage of local issues.