No need for a printing press

Published 9:55 pm Tuesday, February 12, 2013

American journalist and media critic A.J. Liebling is famously credited for the line, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”

For many years, Liebling’s words were true, but they hardly have any merit today, when virtually anyone in the United States with access to the Internet can start his or her own blog or website or use Facebook or Twitter. In this age of widespread technology, freedom of the press now extends to all ordinary citizens who wish to publish their opinions using any or all of these mediums.

Just a few weeks ago, a national debate raged on the right of citizens to carry weapons. Gun control advocates claimed the Founding Fathers could not have foreseen advances in technology that would allow for automatic weapons and multiple-round clips and that the Founding Fathers would no longer be in favor of ordinary citizens owning those weapons.

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Last week, the converse situation presented itself — a fundamental right guaranteed in the Bill of Rights has stood the test of time even with remarkable advances in technology, but nobody has suggested this right should be taken away from the masses who now claim it.

Last week, during a portion of the City Council meeting set aside for council members to speak their minds on any topic for as long as their fellow members will indulge them, Councilman Mike Duman used Liebling’s quote at the end of a harangue against local newspapers.

Mr. Duman started with the Suffolk News-Herald and then moved on to the Virginian-Pilot, criticizing the editorial boards of both newspapers for what he said was unfair treatment of the topic of the city manager’s raise. His main complaint about the News-Herald’s editorial, it seemed, was that it made no mention of double-digit raises recently granted to some rank-and-file city employees as part of a compensation plan designed to bring salaries more in line with the job market.

Mr. Duman concluded his speech with Liebling’s quote, then suggesting — we assume in jest — that the city should buy a press.

The point Mr. Duman missed is that the city doesn’t need one. With its own website, television channel, multiple Facebook and Twitter accounts, a Constant Contact account it uses to send monthly email updates, a Media and Community Relations staff the size of the Suffolk News-Herald’s newsroom and many other resources (including the taxpayers’ dollars) at its disposal, the city doesn’t need a literal printing press to get its message out.

Other City Council members, including Charles Parr, have suggested often in recent years that the city needs to do a better job of getting the “city story” out. The city recently took what appears to be its first step toward that with the first installment of its “Citizen Centric Report,” which gives updates on the city’s 2012 accomplishments and financial position.

The reports were printed and placed on the city’s website. A news release was sent out about them. The city’s Facebook and Twitter accounts heralded their arrival. And the city plans to produce the report annually and expand it in future years.

It would seem the city is doing just fine producing its own propaganda, even without its own printing press.