The media, both traditional and digital, play a vital role in society. In its truest form, the role of the media is to inform the general public about events and issues that affect them. They are the protector of our First Amendment right to free speech and should serve as an objective watchdog of the government. They bring to light positive stories about our communities, call attention to issues that we need to be concerned about and of course, make sure we know what our favorite sports teams are up to and what the weather will be like over the next few days.
There are some that will claim the media is too liberal, others that it is too conservative. Whatever your opinion is, you have always had the right to share those opinions and see those opinions printed in your daily newspaper.
Letters to the editor, bylined articles and opinion pieces (like this one) are the citizenry’s way of letting its views be known. A well-written letter to the editor can change a school policy. A thoughtful opinion piece can get a person elected. An influential writer of a bylined article can secure much needed funding for a community project. There are countless examples of how these important segments reflect the demeanor and culture of a community.
As public relations practitioners, my colleagues and I have come to depend on these opportunities — not only to share important information but to establish a presence in a community for local businesses, community leaders, advocates and the like. Equally as important, we have come to honor and respect the regular contributors of content as they represent the pulse of the community in which they live and work. Who better to talk about the need for a stoplight on a particularly busy street than the parent who needs to cross that street every day?
Thanks to the popularity of social media, we have lots of other ways to share our opinions. People are expressing opinions on sites like Facebook and Yelp on a full range of topics. Excited about a new project? Put up a YouTube video about it. Upset because your favorite restaurant no longer serves your favorite dish? Write a review on Yelp to let them know.
But there is nothing quite like seeing your opinion published in the local newspaper.
The media business is changing — some of the changes are for the better, some are a bit more troublesome. Newspapers around the country, including the largest daily here in Arizona, are eliminating the community opinion pages. I know it is costly to run a newspaper and it requires skilled writers and editors to produce a quality product each and every day. But start taking away this important voice and I think you risk reducing the quality of that product.
The media, in all forms, wields great power. And with this power comes the responsibility of being representative of the community that has entrusted it with that power. As a conduit to information and the voice of the community, a newspaper and its readers’ opinions are essential.
• Abbie S. Fink is vice president/general manager of HMA Public Relations in Phoenix. She has been with the firm since 1993. Active in the community, she is a past president of the Phoenix Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, serves as a member of the executive board of PRSA’s Counselors Academy and is on the board of directors for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Scottsdale.