Stand up for the media

A screenshot of Chattanooga reporter Andy Sher's comments on the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency. (Twitter)
A screenshot of Chattanooga reporter Andy Sher's comments on the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency. (Twitter)

First things first: Thank you for your support.

The Tennessee Lookout is wrapping up our first full week of coverage and the support we’ve received from across the state has been gratifying. We’ve received social media follows and daily newsletter subscriptions. Readers from all areas of Tennessee have reached out with ideas for stories. 

But, not every journalist and not every outlet gets support. 

In Memphis this week, Wendi C. Thomas with another nonprofit, independent news outlet sued the City of Memphis with pro-bono support of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The suit alleges the city denied press releases to MLK50: Justice Through Journalism as retaliation for unfavorable coverage.

Thomas is a respected journalist and former columnist for the city’s daily paper of record, The Memphis Commercial Appeal. She founded MLK50 in 2017 to provide in-depth coverage of the city’s working class. 

For more than a year, her suit says, she’s tried to gain access to the city’s media list with no success. Preventing her from receiving information constitutes a violation of the the First Amendment of the Constitution, among other grievances listed in the suit. 

Wendi C. Thomas (Photo from MLK 50: Journalism for Justice)
Wendi C. Thomas (Photo from MLK 50: Journalism for Justice)

Thomas isn’t the only journalist in Tennessee experiencing problems receiving public information or having requests slow walked. 

Friday morning, Andy Sher, a veteran of the Chattanooga Times-Free Press, tweeted the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency refused to tell him who applied for the vacant executive director position. Not only is that public information, it’s as an innocuous request as I can imagine. 

Further, freelance writers and operators of single source news sites are also alleging similar issues to Thomas’, but in their case, with the office of Gov. Bill Lee. 

The work of elected officials or government agencies is considered public information, except in certain protected cases, such as human resources data. Any Tennessean, not just media, should be able to access public information. 

At the same time, our Anita Wadhwani found the Tennessee government that is so protective of public documents  is providing personal information, including home addresses, of COVID-19 patients to law enforcement agencies. 

Assuming government agencies aren’t doing anything illegal or unethical, they shouldn’t worry about transparency. The best way to dispel conspiracy theories is to freely disseminate information. 

America has a president who refers to the media as ‘enemies of the people’ for questioning the operations of the government. His words have trickled down to state and local government, and friends, if you think suppression of the media benefits you in any way, you are wrong. 

Most reporters I’ve known are overworked and underpaid. Most have no partisan agenda; in fact, I couldn’t tell you whether the reporters I know lean left or right, vote Democratic or Republican. Most got into the field out of a love of writing or a compelling desire to enlighten the community through storytelling.

And so, while we thank you for your support and ask that you continue sharing our content, we also ask that you read, support and news of other outlets in the state – the daily papers of record, the small community outlets, the blogs you read. 

Stand up for the media.