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From the Daily: Value editorial freedom

BY THE MICHIGAN DAILY

Published February 19, 2012

Free speech is an integral aspect of the American Dream. It’s possibly the first and most utilized right in the United States, and one that is often taken for granted. It's appropriate for any city to lose this basic right. If nowhere else, the city of Philadelphia should remember that. The Liberty Bell and the University of Pennsylvania, founded by Benjamin Franklin, are daily reminders of it. The coming sale and subsequent censoring of the city's newspapers like The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Philadelphia Daily News is a significant misstep away from all that the city represents. News and media within Philadelphia must remain reliable. Newspapers must stay objective as an integral part of free society despite whatever economic or political happenings are going on behind the scenes.

Since the Philadelphia Media Network announced that it would be up for sale, there's been a significant amount of interest in purchasing the network — consisting of The Inquirer, The Daily News and Philly.com. The largest and most powerful source is a group of executive Democratic investors, led by Ed Rendell, the former Philadelphia mayor, former governor of Pennsylvania and chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Last week, CEO and Publisher of the Philadelphia Media Network Gregory Osberg announced within the company that he would oversee all articles produced regarding the sale of the company. He went on to say that if any ran without his personal approval, those involved would be fired, including both the writers and editors.

The sale and corresponding censoring of the newspaper stems from a concern within the company itself. Older forms of publishing, specifically newspapers, have had trouble coping with and adjusting to an increasingly online and decreasingly profitable business model. Twitter, the “blogosphere” and 24-hour cable news cycles have changed the game. It's become progressively harder for newspapers to reach a disappearing niche. The censorship of articles to favor certain prospective buyers is an attempt on the part of the management to keep both public concern and private fervor to a minimum until the deal goes through.

However, that concern is not an excuse to censor what should be public information. Newspapers, the only type of business mentioned in the Constitution, cannot simply sell their content or focus to the highest bidder. The spread of information is a crucial institution in a democratic system. It keeps the public knowledgeable and institutions reliable and accountable. Investment in media is an investment in literary freedom and free speech, not an attempt to facilitate personal interests and intentions of the buyers within society. This is especially true, and a bit unnerving, when the buyers are well-known political bosses.

It’s unfortunate that the print media industry is in a current dire financial situation. That doesn’t mean, however, that editors should censor or bias their content and mission to accommodate financial interests. It’s impossible to say newspapers are without bias or any conflict of interests, but they must do everything within their power to retain editorial integrity. In a political era fraught with wealthy lobbying interests, journalism must find a way to retain its objective and integral role.