In this editorial published by Windy City Times Media Group on Thursday 11 April 2024, space limitations did not permit me to mention the ongoing attacks on journalists and journalism in Latin America and other regions. Allow me here to mention two perilous situations for investigative journalism: freedom of the press no longer exists in Nicaragua and 8 journalists in the Mexican Federal protection program have been murdered.

Trigger warning: I am a journalist and I read newspapers.

I’ve been reading newspapers since I first learned to read. Newspapers were a lively part of the daily life in my family. I even wrote letters to the editor which were published while I was still in grade school. I started delivering the Pittsburgh Press when I was 12 years old. My very first job as a reporter was for the community newspaper at the Kingsley House on Larimer Ave in East Liberty, Pittsburgh, Pa. I think I was in seventh grade at the time. I wrote about stuff that happened in our neighborhood.

When I went to seminary, I wrote columns that got me banned as ‘persona non grata’ in more than one Catholic diocese on the East Coast. My reports on the voter registration I was doing in Mississippi got me “detained” by the local sheriff in Greenville. I was “bailed out” by Hodding Carter the Third, a newspaper publisher and journalist who took on a key role in the Carter administration.

These two incidents were the worst I ever suffered for being a journalist – other than being ignored. Nothing like what journalists and journalism are confronting today on all fronts everywhere.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), since the Russian seizure of Crimea in 2014 in the Russo-Ukraine war, 15 journalists have been killed. According to Reporters w/o Borders (RSF), since the Russian invasion of mainland Ukraine in 2022, over 100 journalists have been victims of crimes against their persons by Russian agents.

In the Gaza-Israel war, as of March 31, 2024, CPJ reports: 95 journalists and media workers confirmed dead [ 90 Palestinian, 2 Israeli, and 3 Lebanese]; 16 journalists reported injured; 4 journalists reported missing; 25 journalists reported arrested.

These statistics do not include crimes against the family and friends of journalists designed to intimidate the journalists into silence.

These two wars are just two of the 110-armed conflict situations in the world today in which journalists are at risk. Armed conflicts are just one type of condition in which journalism is under siege.

Today, Journalists must contend with the possibility that their communications are being intercepted, monitored, or hacked. Governments, drug cartels, and corporate entities exploit sophisticated technologies to surveil journalists, track their movements, and monitor their online activities. Such surveillance undermines the ability of journalists to protect their sources and conduct investigative reporting without fear of reprisal. Such surveillance makes journalists the targets of violence.

The digital age has placed access to information into the hands of everyone with a smart phone, making everyone potentially a reporter as well as a consumer of news. The naïve hope of this democratization of information was to provide everyone with firsthand, unfiltered, unmediated information. That is: information freed from the prejudices and self-interests of the “elite ruling class editors” and the media moguls.

The promise of democratization of information has in fact become the nightmare of massive disinformation on an industrial scale.

The digital age has facilitated the spread of misinformation and “fake news.” Social media platforms generate breeding grounds for utterly fabricated narratives and the gross manipulation of facts, eroding public trust in mediated journalism. Distinguishing fact from fiction has become a constant challenge for even serious readers – with the result that the very idea of truth has been called into question.

In economics, Gresham’s law states “bad money drives out good.” In journalism, fake news kills genuine news.

800 journalists were jailed at some point in 2023. 550 journalists entered 2024 in prison. More than half of the detained journalists are in just five countries – China, Myanmar, Belarus, Vietnam, and Iran.

Women journalists and journalists interested in the human rights of women and sexual minorities are especially targeted. Six of the eight longest sentences in 2023 were passed on women journalists: Iran, Elaheh Mohammadi and Niloofar Hamedi, sentenced to 12 and 13 years in prison; in Belarus, Maryna Zolatava, Liudmila Chekina, and Valeriya Kastsiuhova sentenced to jail terms ranging from 10 to 12 years each; in Burundi, Floriane Irangabiye, serves a 10-years sentence.

When I first arrived in Chicago in 1966, there were four daily newspapers and a host of excellent weekly and neighborhood newspapers serving various constituencies of our Chicago area communities. Chicago was noted worldwide as a city of writers and investigative reporters.

Today, print journalism struggles to find a financially viable position in the myriad of platforms available for both writers and readers. Many writers have moved from traditional print media to Substack and hope to survive by reader subscriptions. And other strategies.

The simple joy of reading a printed newspaper with my morning coffee isn’t just a form of nostalgia; it is a way in which I meditate on various matters of moment to me and my fellow citizens.

And yet, according to Pew Research, 44% of the American public have negative views of journalists and reporters.

First you destroy trust, then you belittle, then you kill.

Killing journalists is part of the war on truth itself.


April 2024 © [email protected]

Nick Patricca is professor emeritus at Loyola University Chicago. He is a member of PEN International San Miguel Mexico Center.