TIME Magazine is one of the oldest and best-known publications in America. And while its newsstand and subscription sales are down in this digital age, it still makes headlines each December.
That’s when TIME announces its “Person of the Year.”
It’s not really an honor or an award. Instead, the editors of TIME select the person or group that they feel most affected the news or our lives— for better or worse – in the past year.
In 2017, TIME chose a movement it called “The Silence Breakers” — the women and men who spoke up and sparked an increased awareness of sexual harassment and assault in this country. The year before that, Donald Trump was cited after breaking all expectations in his run for the presidency.
This year, the “Person of the Year” embodies a concept that is so close to my heart.
TIME chose “The Guardians and the War on Truth” — a group of journalists whose work either landed them in jail or cost them their lives.
In an essay explaining the selection, TIME editor-in-chief Edward Felsenthal writes:
“Like all human gifts, courage comes to us at varying levels and at varying moments. This year we are recognizing four journalists who have paid a terrible price to seize the challenge of this moment: Jamal Khashoggi, Maria Ressa, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and the Capital Gazette of Annapolis, Maryland.”
All this happened in 2018:
— Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian journalist who lived and wrote in the United States, was brutally murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
— Maria Ressa, the editor of Rappler, an independent news website in the Philippines that has been critical of President Rodrigo Duterte, became a government target.
— Reuters reporters We Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo were imprisoned in Myammar for breaking state secret laws. Their crime? Investigating the mass executions of Rohingya Muslims.
— And here in America, the pain is still fresh from the shooting at the Capital Gazette newsroom, just down the highway from Washington, D.C. Five members of the newspaper staff were killed by a gunmen who carried a grudge against the paper.
I think of them every morning when I grab my first cup of coffee and sit down at the computer. As I read, I drink from a cup that says “Journalism Matters — Today More than Ever.”
It is a line we all need to remember every day.
Think about these words from Felsenthal’s TIME essay:
“It has long been the first move in the authoritarian playbook: controlling the flow of information and debate that is freedom’s lifeblood. And in 2018, the playbook worked.”
We know that journalists are now being imprisoned in unprecedented numbers around the world. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 262 were behind bars in 2017 — more than half of them in Turkey, China and Egypt.
TIME notes the signs of trouble were everywhere in 2018: from Hungary where hundreds of media outlets took a step closer to state control…to India where two journalists were killed in separate hit-and-run attacks in less than 24 hours… to, most recently, a series of bomb threats at CNN’s New York broadcast center.
Some say Donald Trump’s constant insults on the media and his cries of “fake news” have inspired despots around the world. But despite his tirades, the TIME cover story emphasizes “the US remains a beacon for truth and free expression.”
After all, just a few weeks ago we had the spectacle of the White House yanking a reporter’s press credential only to have it restored by a judge who was appointed by the president.
We also must not forget that it was America that provided Jamal Khashoggi with a second home for his family and his work. And even though President Trump has said he is not sure that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince played a role in the Khashoggi murder, a core group of US senators is pressing for answers. So are his colleagues at the Washington Post.
Most of the journalists cited by Time, like Khashoggi, were targeted from above — killed or imprisoned by people with government ties. The massacre at the Capital Gazette was different in that it was the work of a deranged individual with a deep hatred of the newspaper. And yet, there is a common thread: the importance of the contributions these journalists made to society.
As the widow of one of the slain Capital Gazette staffers put it: “A lot of people don’t understand how important what goes on in their community is to them and how it affects their quality of life until it’s gone.”
We remember them and their sacrifice. And we see what has happened to these brave men and women as a sign that press freedom is under attack and must be preserved. We owe them no less.
They were cited “for taking great risks in pursuit of greater truths, for the imperfect but essential quest for facts that are central to civil discourse, for speaking up and speaking out.”
Kudos to “the Guardians” — TIME’s Person of the Year.