Journalists are public servants, not the enemy

By Letti Lister Guest Columnist

First Amendment to the United States Constitution: 

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

I’ve spent my entire career in the newspaper business. I have found it very rewarding to work in a profession that provides such a critical service to our citizens and democracy as a whole.

It would be a very dangerous path for us to take as a country to start shutting out members of the media simply because we don’t like something they have said or because they were critical of a government official. 

Our professional reporters (and reporters at more than 100 newspapers around the state of South Dakota) cover the Legislature in Pierre, county commissions, city councils, school boards and other government-funded entities along with countless other subjects that impact our neighbors. We are there to not only report to taxpayers how their money is being spent, but to act as a watchdog for improprieties and to ensure that proper procedure is followed. If you only want cold, hard facts you could just read transcripts. But would you take the time to do that?

I think we can all agree that we appreciate the value of an informed reporter who can break down a complex, extensive subject into a digestible amount of information, ensuring the reader gets the critical points and the facts are grounded in truth. Our job is to report factually, accurately and in a fair and unbiased manner in order for the readers to form their own thoughts and opinions.

The media is not above criticism or reproach. Some use unnamed sources too liberally — something that should be used only in rare instances. Some allow their personal sense of justice to creep into their reporting. Some sensationalize and distort. Some make flat-out mistakes.

As hard as we try and as closely as we scrutinize our work, we have made errors in the past and will make them in the future. We have always encouraged our readers to let us know if they find an inaccuracy in our news stories because we would want to know about it immediately. As soon as we become aware of it, we acknowledge it and print a clarification, correction or retraction. If you have ever found anything in our stories to be fiction, we would want to know about it immediately. 

It should also be noted that the very page on which you are reading this editorial is the Opinion page of the newspaper. These pages are set aside for letters to the editor to allow our readers to express their opinions, for editorial cartoons and opinion columnists — local, state and national — to share their views on subjects we feel are impactful.

We take our role of offering a variety of opinions on topics very seriously. We believe it is an important function of the newspaper and a free press to publish differing views and encourage civil discourse along with critical thinking.

That cannot be achieved if we only present one side of a subject, politics in particular. It’s a rare opinion column with which I have ever fully agreed.

But then, I like to have my opinions challenged so that I can grow and evolve and have a chance to increase and sharpen my own point of reference on subjects.

I can only hope our overwhelming volume of professional work at the Pioneer speaks to our factual credibility and unbiased reporting and that we can continue to earn the trust of our community. 

For more than 140 years, we have been providing a permanent, written record of the Black Hills. We are proud to be one of many fiercely dedicated guardians of the cornerstone of democracy.

You may not always like what we report, but the media is most assuredly NOT the enemy of the American people.


Letti Lister is the publisher at the Spearfish Black Hills Pioneer.