“The pen is mightier than the sword” was a phrase first written by an English author in 1839. But the notion that the written word was more powerful than direct violence was an idea that had long circulated before the playwright penned the phrase.
And, as a journalist, the phrase still holds weight in our modern times…and even more so in our own community.
I take pride in my work at The Yazoo Herald, and, for over a decade, I have used massive amounts of ink to expose injustices and spread ideas, optimism and information throughout the Yazoo community. I have been praised and cursed – many times in the same sitting. My heart has been warmed with words of gratitude and encouragement. And my skin has also grown tougher with criticism. I have been right, and I have been wrong. But I took each one on my own shoulders.
But reflecting back on my time here at The Herald, the one criticism that truly gets under my skin is when elected officials and other politicians have tried to stop the press. Some of those politicians, who were elected by the people, have tried to keep information from the very people who placed them in office.
For the most part, I have found a way around the very politicians who have tried to silence this newspaper. Public records, financial footprints and commentary from people brave enough to speak have contributed to that success.
I have even had a few politicians who have told me that they would like to “screen” my work before I published it so that they would be prepared for the potential backlash that may come from the people after they read our newspaper. I am not in the business of allowing the very people I have been placed in charge of watching for the public to “screen” anything. I am a journalist for our readers, not a publicist for elected officials.
The very idea that the press would bring both injustices and successes to light is the very foundation of our business. I admit it can be hard to see that in our current national media, but for community newspapers, we are still very much ready for the job at hand.
Let’s look at this scenario:
When the 13 original colonies of what would later become the United States of America were in the primitive stages of planning its revolution, there were about 400 publications across the colonies. The colonists proved to be avid readers, dating back from the importance placed upon Bible readings from the Puritans.
The first weekly newspaper was located in Boston, which would later become the site for the Boston Massacre, a street brawl between American colonists and British soldiers that quickly escalated to a chaotic, bloody slaughter. Many historians consider this a turning point in the birth of a nation.
Nightriders provided the Boston publication’s account of the massacre in what would be compared to a news wire system in our modern times. In fact, the communication system was considered one of the best in the world at the time.
The British government wanted the massacre news to be contained, “screened” perhaps. But thanks to the bravery of publishers, journalists and nightriders, the news traveled and traveled fast. The colonies were informed despite the attempts to keep them in the dark by the British government.
To me, that access and desire for knowledge is very much an American idea.
Flash forward to today to our own community. How could I even sit at this computer if I knew the work I did was to be “screened” and given the blessing of our elected officials and politicians? Can you imagine the turn of events if perhaps our early colonists were not informed of what was going on behind the scenes?
Now granted, Yazoo is not the original colonies. But the foundation of being informed, of being aware of what was going on behind the scenes, of knowing what your government is doing is the same. If I prevent our politicians from “screening” my work, I am fully aware that obstacles could be placed in my path. Documents can go missing. Employees can be threatened with termination for speaking. Phone calls can go unanswered. People can be silenced. And, yes, advertisements may be cut. But I will always print the truth before I beg for pennies.
But I remind our elected officials, that public records exist and can be found. People are willing to talk and stand up to abusive power. Silence can sometimes say enough. And people can vote.
I thank our readers for supporting The Herald and what we do here. And to the politicians who want to screen or approve our work… you can see it every Wednesday when it comes off the press.