Journalism’s principles under threat: Georgia and Mississippi cases

Recent events in Georgia and Mississippi show that journalism’s principles are under attack by people whose efforts, if not their intentions, undermine the free press — a cornerstone of our democracy and the only profession enshrined in and protected by the U.S. Constitution. 

In Mississippi, the nonprofit newsroom Mississippi Today, known for its Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting, faces a costly defamation lawsuit from a former governor. He is demanding access to confidential sources and notes, threatening the newsroom’s financial stability and the trust between journalists and their sources.

Adam Ganucheau, the editor-in-chief of Mississippi Today, wrote a June opinion piece in The New York Times. (Screenshot from Credit: Screenshot from NY Times

The lawsuit by Phil Bryant aims to stifle investigative journalism by draining financial and human resources and intimidating reporters. If newsrooms are forced to divert funds to legal defenses, they will ultimately produce less thoughtful work that holds the powerful accountable and keeps the public informed.

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In Georgia, media organizations are facing our own troubling scenarios. The University of Georgia Law Clinic, known for its advocacy for open records and governmental transparency and its support of small newsrooms, including ours, recently halted some of its efforts due to alleged political pressure.

Locally, our Alpharetta-based colleagues at Appen Media Group are embroiled in a protracted legal battle with the City of Sandy Springs over the state’s Open Records Act, challenging the city’s transparency, specifically with routine police records. In December, a judge ruled against Appen, but wrote that the company, “may be correct in its assertion that [Sandy Springs’] practice violates the spirit of the Open Records Act.” 

Appen is appealing.

These legal battles exemplify how governmental bodies can use courts to obfuscate and delay due process, eroding trust and the media’s ability to serve as a public watchdog.

These are merely two examples of a troubling trend that is almost certain to be exacerbated by the challenges posed by AI and deepfakes, especially as we enter into election season. Independent, credible journalism is our best defense against misinformation and manipulated media.

We are growing

In happier news, observant readers will notice our expanded coverage of a fifth community in this month’s issues of The Reporter. I’m pleased to announce that we have added Cathy Cobbs as a full-time staff writer who will cover Dunwoody and Tucker, two of DeKalb County’s most dynamic cities.

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