From the Editor: When the press becomes the news

A photo collage of past editions of the Hyattsville Life & Times.

BY KRISSI HUMBARD AND T. CARTER ROSS  — On the night of Aug. 1, the City Council considered the city’s contract with the Hyattsville Life & Times (HL&T). What has been a routine vote to renew the contract turned into a heated debate about the role of this paper in the community.

At that council meeting, the contract renewal almost did not pass. Not because council members were concerned about the cost of the contract or the amount of page space received, but because a few raised concerns about the paper’s editorial content.

That should concern you.

At the meeting, Councilmember Joseph Solomon (Ward 5) implied that the newspaper should cater its editorials and coverage towards members of the council if the HL&T wishes to retain its contract. Solomon used the perennial opposition of Councilmembers Paula Perry (Ward 4) and Ruth Ann Frazier (Ward 5) to the city’s contract with the paper to raise the issue. Mayor Candace Hollingsworth and Councilmember Bart Lawrence (Ward 1) quickly noted that such a demand would be unconstitutional.

Each year for the past decade, the city has contracted with the paper for three pages of advertising space, including the center spread of the paper, which is used to deliver the city’s Hyattsville Reporter to every household in the city. The HL&T has proven to be a reliable and cost-effective way for the city to get word out to city residents about upcoming events, city activities, and important services. The city is the paper’s largest advertiser and, just like the other businesses and service providers who advertise in these pages, we rely upon that revenue to produce the award-winning newspaper you’re now holding.  

The city pays us to advertise. The city does not pay for editorial content. This newspaper is not an arm of the City Council. We do not skew news to favor anyone. We report the facts.

And that is important. A free press ensures accuracy. A free press reports the facts and allows you to make decisions based on these facts. Truth and accuracy, independence, fairness and impartiality, accountability: these are the founding principles of journalism. Having an unbiased, impartial news source benefits the community it serves.

And we do strive to serve you, the community. We try to write about the stories you care about. We welcome input and dialogue from the community on the type of newspaper you want and the content most needed by the community. But, it takes a village. We are just a few dedicated citizens trying to do justice to the community. If there is a story you think we should be covering, reach out to us. The local newspaper is the voice of this community.

The contract renewal eventually passed. After the vote, Councilmembers Perry and Frazier walked out in anger over the late arrival of Councilmember Patrick Paschall (Ward 3), who cast the decisive sixth vote in favor of the contract. Citizens may want to review the recording of the council meeting available on the city website; the HL&T discussion starts about 90 minutes into the meeting.

The HL&T exists to document, celebrate, and inform this community and its evolution, as well as to write the first draft of its future. We do so in print, online, and via social media. We need the support of our advertisers to achieve this, but to truly serve the community, no advertiser can dictate the content of the paper. Our readers — the city’s residents, businesses, and elected officials alike — are best served by a free press.

Krissi Humbard is digital editor for the Hyattsville Life & Times. T. Carter Ross sits on the HL&T board of directors.