It is up to us as a nation, as a people, to say a free press is something worth preserving. It is something to honor as a shared value and as a fundamental necessity to the future of functioning democracy — at home and abroad. That is why legislation was enacted authorizing the establishment of a Fallen Journalists Memorial on public land in D.C. It will demonstrate the United States’ commitment to a free press and commemorate journalists who sacrificed their lives in service to that ideal. I’m proud to be part of that work. The concept sprang from the June 28, 2018, attack against my newsroom in Annapolis. Angered by a 2011 column about his conviction for using social media to harass a former high school classmate, a gunman ended the lives of five of my colleagues at the Capital Gazette. With help and support, my fellow editors, reporters and photojournalists continued publishing — aware that the roots of a free press in our community dig back beyond the American Revolution. Of course, we would cover the story, as well. The decision made us a symbol of a free press. It won the respect of our peers. We were awarded a Pulitzer Prize and other accolades. At a conference in Houston, a South Korean journalist told me we were an inspiration to her country’s journalists.
We were not alone in our losses. That was the year a vengeful Saudi regime butchered Jamal Khashoggi for his insightful commentaries in The Post. That was the year my staff was honored to share the cover of Time magazine with Khashoggi, courageous Filipina journalist Maria Ressa and formerly jailed Myanmar reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. Yet our triumph over tragedy was a reminder that the mission of a free press — even in the nation whose Constitution lists it first among our fundamental rights — carries risks for all who dedicate their lives to it. A gunman murdered Virginia television reporter Alison Parker and photojournalist Adam Ward during a live broadcast. Reporter Charnice Milton was shot to death as she left an assignment in a D.C. neighborhood suffering a rampage of gun crimes. Beloved New Orleans TV news anchor Nancy Parker died in a plane crash while covering a trailblazing African American stunt pilot. Today, anyone with a cellphone can play at journalism. That’s why reporters, photographers and editors committed to ethics and standards matter more than ever. Truth matters. Accountability matters. Courage matters. Journalists showing the bravery and tragedy of the Ukrainian people daily have made clear the consequences of Putin’s senseless war. As we read, see and hear the results of their work daily, we as a nation understand what is happening. We see the statements from Russia’s state media for what they are: propaganda. History is numbered with professionals such as Renaud, Zakrzewski, Kuvshynova, Sakun and Baulina who die to bring us news that dictators and demagogues will threaten and kill to block. National consensus can be reached only through informed citizens. That is the function of a free press in a democracy. It’s true for local journalists, too. Coverage of council meetings keeps our elected officials honest; opinion pages quiet the rancor among competing ideologies; and reports on high school sports build a sense of community.
So, in addition to physical space for commemoration, the Fallen Journalists Memorial will provide educational programming to remind future generations about the contributions of journalism to preserve democracy and the many forms of a free press protected by the First Amendment. This nation needs a memorial to the work of my colleagues in Annapolis, those killed in Ukraine and those risking their lives today on a European battlefield — but also to the thousands of journalists pursuing the truth every day across the United States and around the world.