By Caroline Titus
The Ferndale Enterprise, Ferndale, CA
Editor’s note: Caroline Titus, who runs a small newspaper in Northern California, wrote this piece during the recent nationwide protest against attacks against our nation’s free press. Titus gave us permission to re-publish her editorial in our newspaper as it exemplifies so much of what we have experienced in Idyllwild as journalists.
The Boston Globe is spearheading this week a nationwide effort to fight back against attacks on the press. It is requesting that newspapers stand together today and publish editorials defending the profession and its unique role in our system of government.
“This dirty war on the free press must end,” states The Globe.
While we agree with The Globe’s sentiments, we feel the effort is futile.
While President Trump’s attacks on the free press are novel for our times, dangerous and rampant, here in Ferndale, California — a town of under 1,400 residents — this small weekly newspaper has become accustomed to attacks for years from the town’s “civic” leaders and some of its residents. Its simple advice for the bigger media institutions that seem shocked by the attacks — get over it.
The “fake news” mantra is not unique to our current “commander in chief.” In this small town, we’ve heard it for years — as has any other small-town editor in remote locations around our great nation. For the most part, we’ve been amused by the desperation of those who echo it.
In 2015, while former Ferndale mayor and fair board director Jeff Farley was deposed in this newspaper’s First Amendment lawsuit against the fair board, he was asked what he thought of this award-winning newspaper. He recalled, that after city council meetings, he would read “The Surprise,” and ponder whether this editor was at the same meeting that he presided over. Like many others, when asked for an example of the “fake news,” he couldn’t come up with one. Another fair board director and consistent city council attendee, Duane Martin, recently said he disagreed with “the spin” this newspaper puts on stories. When asked for an example, he too was silent.
When Trump won’t call on a particular reporter, bans a reporter from an event, or attacks reporters on social media — his tactics are all too familiar to this editor.
We’ve been instructed where to sit at public meetings and told not to move, told not to ask questions of public officials, kicked out of public meetings, yelled at while taking photos at public meetings, threatened physically multiple times, had restraining orders issued to protect us, had our spouse fired from his job over the content in this newspaper, been called every sexist name in the book, had anonymous letters blanket the town disparaging us, had salacious renderings of us taped in store windows, and recently — the same week as five journalists were killed in Maryland — been described as a “predator that needs eradication.”
Hey, Jim Acosta, Don Lemon, Anderson Cooper etc., etc., try heading into your local grocery store — where everyone knows your name — after your weekly has hit the newsstands and controversy runs six columns wide and above the fold on the front page. The relationship between a free press and its community in a small town is palpable and in your face even after the week’s issue has been put to bed and all you want is a cheap bottle of Merlot after a particularly tough deadline.
Meantime, in order to keep a free press going in this small town, we put up with rising printing and postage costs and have chosen to open up the newspaper’s headquarters for overnight guests — that means cleaning toilets and stripping beds, in-between writing headlines, reporting stories, attending meeting after meeting, delivering newspapers and keeping a small business afloat.
Is it worth it?
As the California News Publisher Association said this week, “A free and independent press is one of the most sacred principles enshrined in the Constitution.” The Ferndale Enterprise is this town’s free and independent press and has been for 140 years. Every. Damn. Week. Will we make it to celebrate 150 years? Who knows. Will we make it see our current president leave the White House? We sure as hell hope so. In the meantime, fellow journalists, toughen up, bear down and stay the course. We will get through this. Our democracy needs us and we’re not running for prom king and queen. No one is more powerful than the truth.