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Bill Britt: Responsibilities of the Press

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

The Alabama Political Reporter is a news organization devoted to Alabama politics. We will provide accurate, reliable coverage of policy, elections and government. A political news site that gives citizens, lawmakers, business leaders and organizations one place where they can find thorough coverage of all the political news that affects our government and our lives.

Alabama Political Reporter is independent, non-partisan media company that we believe will become the most trusted source for political news, analysis and commentary in the State of Alabama.

We believe the surest way to guarantee good government is to have a fully and accurately informed citizenry. The purpose of the news organization is to produce honest and accurate reporting that informs, educates, alerts and calls citizens, lawmakers and business leaders to action to insure the people of Alabama are represented by the best government possible. In a metaphorical sense, we hope to serve as an aegis of the public good.

The word “aegis” (from the Greek) entered our modern English to mean a shield, protection or sponsorship.

In later Classical mythology, the aegis was the shield of the god Zeus, he is described in the Iliad as the “Aegis-bearing Zeus.”

In Greek mythology, when the Olympians would shake the aegis, Mount Ida would become wrapped in clouds as thunder rolled and men where struck down with fear.

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Today, we have a clear concept of doing something “under someone’s aegis” meaning to do something under protection of a powerful, knowledgeable or benevolent source.

News organizations at their best are powerful, benevolent protectors of the public interest.

At their worst they are self-promoting scandal sheets, advancing the agenda of the management, staff or its underwriters.

The U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of the press but also implicit in our laws is a freedom from the press. This concept, of freedom from the press, is however, greatly ignored.

Everyday writers, as well as, editors are faced with decisions as to what is newsworthy, what is in the public interest. While news organizations should strive to make these choices based on wisdom and understanding many are made arbitrarily based on time to complete a story, physical space within the paper and, yes, sometimes, whim or malevolence.

However, when it comes to public trust we all need to take a serious and measured view of what is reported and how it is reported. As an editor, I labor under a great personal weight every time a story concerns matters of public trust.

Reputations, lives and institutions can be reformed or destroyed by such stories. Therefore, it is incumbent upon all who wear the mantle of journalist to consider, with great care, the validity of a story.

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As an editor, I believe there is an implicated obligation to protect people from the press.

The press is often referred to as the “Fourth Estate.” Novelist Jeffrey Archer, in his work, the Fourth Estate observered: “In May 1789, Louis XVI summoned to Versailles a full meeting of the ‘Estate General.’ The First Estate consisted of three hundred clergy. The Second Estate, three hundred nobles. The Third Estate, six hundred commoners. Some years later, after the French Revolution, Edmund Burke, looking up at the Press Gallery of the House of Commons, said, ‘Yonder sits the Fourth Estate, and they are more important than them all.’”

As the Fourth Estate we are advocates as well as defenders. We should, at our best, provide accurate, unbiased information to frame the issues in a way that allows citizens to make good decisions. We should hold those in power accountable and to expose the rats and cockroaches that infect all corners of public life.

It is naïve to think that all or any public man or woman has clean hands, by omission or commission there is dirt.

The great failing of journalists is to think that we are the heroes of the story. The truth is we should never be in the story, not our ego, ambition, desire or political ideology. We are mechanics who should work in earnest to make clear information that shields against tyranny and promotes liberty.

We pray this news organization will continue in this tradition for years to come, to inform, educate, alert and call to action the people of our state.

In this earnest spirit we offer you the Alabama Political Reporter, may our desire to make Alabama even better be blessed by God and also protected from ourselves.

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A note of thanks…

A project like Alabama Political Reporter may have come from the mind of one individual but making it a reality takes the work of many hands.

The laborers are not just those who have coded the software or written the stories or provided the ideas it is also the many who have offered food, advice, comfort and belief that have built the foundation upon which the dream now appears as a new news organization for all Alabamans.

So, it is Susan and I would like to acknowledge some of those people.

We want to thank Governor Robert Bentley and those in his office, the Speaker of the House Mike Hubbard and his staff, the President pro tempore of the Senate, Del Marsh, and his staff as well as the Attorney General Luther Strange and his staff.

The many friends and supporters who have been there for us from the beginning, when resources were scarce and hope was our only comfort, to you we offer our deepest thanks to Dick and Evelyn Whatley, Vernon Burns and Sharon Meadows, Bradley and Rebecca Byrne, Kat Tucker, Mike Gardner, Marty and Hoke Sullivan, Pastors Shawn and Andrea Machen, and many more. You know who you are. You have all been true friends and inspirations, thank you all.


Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

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