Ottney: End of watchWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
“Night gathers, and now my watch begins,” starts the oath of the Night’s Watch in George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, chronicled on HBO as “Game of Thrones.”
“It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.”
The first time I read the oath, I was struck by how closely it mirrored the watchdog tenet of journalism.
Like the “black brothers” of the Night’s Watch, the best journalists are bold, resolute and a little rough around the edges. There’s adventure and exploration to be had. But mostly there’s the thankless, messy toiling at the edge of the world, peering into places most people would rather not look, keeping the white walkers of corruption and the snarks and grumpkins of misconduct at bay.
The more eyes watching, ears listening and mouths asking questions, the more investigating, informing and explaining that can be done. The more stories that can be told. Any voice silenced, any critic squelched, any channel of information blocked is to the detriment of all.
PUBLISHER’S STATEMENT: Pounds: Toledo Free Press to close
Can you picture Toledo without Toledo Free Press?
For some, it won’t be hard. Even after a decade in print, we still occasionally come across those who’ve never heard of us. For our longtime readers and loyal advertisers, it might be disappointing, even distressing. For some of our employees and contributors, it will be devastating. A few in the community will celebrate.
But it should give all of us pause.
Empty racks. Bare driveways. One fewer reporter and photographer taking notes at City Council meetings, court hearings, gallery openings, ribbon-cuttings, community events and more. A locked building. A website and social media pages gone still. These will be the more obvious, outward signs. But the more insidious consequence is the silencing of a voice.
It’s no secret that print media, particularly newspapers, is struggling and has been for years. But while its future is unclear, the need for oversight is still there and it’s more pressing than ever.
In some ways, TFP has balanced Toledo’s print media community in a way that no one else has, and no one may ever have the guts or opportunity to do again. We provided a check, an additional voice, an alternative voice and — most critically — a truly independent voice.
TFP is local, community-driven newspaper: of, by and especially for Toledoans and the region. In my four years here, I witnessed firsthand this paper walk its talk and truly strive to embody that other oft-quoted tenet of giving a voice to the voiceless.
“How long has it been since you felt any ownership in the Toledo print media?” founding Editor in Chief Michael S. Miller asked in his inaugural TFP column March 16, 2005. “If you answered, ‘I own it now,’ you’re not our intended audience.”
TFP offered weekly space for columns discussing comic books, local hip-hop, regional history and more. We regularly covered LGBTQ issues, opened our editorial pages to guest columnists and championed nonprofit causes. Who will step up now and give these communities a voice?
What message does it send to the college students who planned to intern with us this summer that the paper folded before they ever arrived? Seeing the instability of the profession, many would-be journalists may change majors or career paths. Would one of them have won a Pulitzer Prize? Would one of them have requested public records, crunched some numbers and exposed an abuse of public trust? It’s not an easy career, but it’s gratifying and it’s important.
People might be shocked by TFP’s absence at first. Some will lament the loss. But they’ll move on. At the end of the day, most will shrug their shoulders and say, “Well, it’s a newspaper in the 21st century.” We’ll join the long line of Toledo businesses that have succumbed to industry upheavals, competitive pressures or simply changing times.
It’s true that in the long history and longer future of this city, 10 years is but a blip on the radar. But I like to think we’ll leave a bigger legacy than that.
This paper was a litmus test of sorts for Toledo. Does this city want to take risks and give new and different voices a chance? Or does it want to stick to the safe and scripted status quo? The fact that so many felt threatened by the existence of this publication and its voices speaks to the fear and the conditioned acceptance of the status quo. I hurt now. But going forward, I think the loss will hurt Toledo more, in ways big and small, ways many don’t yet recognize.
Competition drives innovation and makes any industry more robust. Every outlet has a role to play; print, television, radio, blogs and the voices of citizen journalists all add to the conversation. The fewer the players, the more complacent and less vigilant those that remain. The loss of Toledo Free Press means fewer checks and balances. One less “watcher on the wall.” And a less free press.
Sarah Ottney is Editor in Chief at Toledo Free Press. She can be reached at email@example.com.