COLUMN: And still, citizens need journalists to dig out the truth

The scene of the Linotype machine was riveting.

In days gone by, newspapers used these mechanical marvels to prepare stories for printing. They relied on molten lead, swinging arms, and expert typists.

The Linotype was a key actor in the movie “The Post,” Hollywood’s version of how the Washington Post came to print the Pentagon Papers. Cameras zoomed in as the lead was turned into words, a process I’d seen countless times growing up in a newspaper shop.

But the Linotype was more than a movie artifact. In way, the complexity of that machine echoed the complexity of journalism portrayed in the “The Post.”

The movie captured the competitive nature of journalism, as The Post and the New York Times competed to dominate the story of the secret history of the Vietnam war. Some people still think news organizations are all of like mind, that we move like a school of fish in the same direction. That’s far from the case. Compare front pages of just the Enterprise and our friends at the Ontario paper, the Argus Observer.

The movie captured the stress of high-stakes journalism. Reporting on a high school ball game isn’t particularly demanding. Sitting through a school board meeting or a city council meeting often means fighting tedium, not stress. But pursuing stories where people don’t want the truth out takes stamina, persistence, and thick skin. At the Enterprise, we’ve earned a reputation for not being bucked off a tough story. We push hard stories despite the challenges because you expect that of us.

“The Post” is effective at showing quality journalism isn’t cheap. There is a business side to newspapering, and success there is needed to run an effective newsroom. At the Enterprise, we’re investing more in investigative reporting than any other organization in the area. We feel that’s our duty.

I get that this is all seemingly insider material for most people. But the movie is fundamentally about how deeply journalists care about holding powerful government officials accountable. The movie shows why that matters.

The Pentagon Papers revealed that administrations – both Democrat and Republican – lied to the public for years about what was happening in the jungles of Vietnam. Those lies led to the deaths of many young soldiers. Those lies led to the unforgivable ostracizing of veterans who answered the call to duty, served, and came home. Those lies would have gone unchecked, had not the press revealed the truth.

Now, we find the government is lying to us again. We are told truth is fiction. Some federal authorities again are making demonstrably false claims. And keeping information from the public remains a default for too many in government at all levels.

As a result, citizens don’t get all the facts. They get what the government wants to share. They are shielded from inconvenient facts that put into question what the government is doing that affects lives, businesses and community institutions.

In journalism, we no longer rely on the Linotype to help get you the news. But most of us are no less impassioned to dig out the truth.

Les Zaitz is editor and publisher of the Malheur Enterprise.