Why We Need Journalism

 You missed more than Jerry Mitchell if you missed Mr. Mitchell’s presentation Feb. 4.

We described Mitchell’s presentation on page 2, and there’s a Q&A with Mitchell on the back page. Please read those.

Then go online. Look him up on Wikipedia. Look up his articles. And read them. He’s a heck of a writer, for one thing. The article with the gambling addiction lead — you’ll know it when you read it — is genuine journalistic dynamite.

As is most of Mr. Mitchell’s body of work. The guy embodies what makes journalism so important — not only to individuals but to all of us as a democratic society.

Without Mitchell’s accurate investigative reporting, legal justice wouldn’t have been served. The Ku Klux Klansmen Mitchell helped put behind bars would still be walking free — if not for his journalism. The legal system tried to put them away and failed. Not because our legal system is awful and doesn’t work but because it can’t always function alone, like any of our national systems.

There’s a reason journalists are called the watch dogs of democratic society. A better nickname would be the Mechanics of Democracy — because that’s what they are. When a part of a democratic society malfunctions, when the wheels of democracy grind, journalists have to be there to provide the oil.

When our legal system didn’t have the evidence to convict those former Klansmen, Mitchell leapt into action, found it, gave it to the court — and like a well-oiled machine, the law started working again.

In doing so, he oiled the wheels of American progress as well. He helped Mississippi take part in something Martin Luther King, Jr. predicted: the South facing up to itself and overcoming its past.

Mitchell effectively healed American history. He healed families, gave them closure after three decades. And he healed legal cases wounded by a lack of evidence.

This is the power of journalism. It’s not an option for a democratic society. It’s an absolute necessity. What would we do if auto mechanics didn’t exist? Count on every single person in the United States to be completely competent auto mechanics 24-7? There would be a lot of rusty cars on the road.

There are rusty cars on the road to democracy, too. Fortunately, our journalists, our mechanics, are standing by.

That’s why we need journalism. Jerry Mitchell was a wonderful reminder.


— Tom Benton