I often give speeches about the importance of public service especially to help get more young people involved – by running for public office, volunteering in their communities, or even helping a neighbor in need. It’s public service that helps build strong communities and makes sure we look out for one another.
Working at newspapers, especially local newspapers, is also a public service. Journalists hold everyone accountable. They help maintain a moral standing in our society. They tell stories of those in our communities who do small things that have large impacts, like adopting a child in need or building a home for a struggling family.
We need local newspapers to help us understand our own communities better. Ask anyone in North Dakota what newspaper they read and I guarantee it is their hometown paper. Those newspapers help expose issues that we may not know about otherwise – issues that impact our daily lives.
Over the past several years, there have been many articles written in national newspapers about the energy boom in western North Dakota. Some stories were thoroughly researched and thought out, but others barely touched the surface of what any of us who live in North Dakota know firsthand in much more detail. That insight that local reporters who live in North Dakota provide and the issues they write about are important and needed, especially now.
A few years ago, several reporters with Forum Communications spent months working on an extensive and in-depth series about the rise of human trafficking in our state. It’s a tough issue — hard to research and also hard to read about, but these reporters rose to the challenge.
Combating human trafficking was an issue I had been working to address in the U.S. Senate and it was in part because of the work of the reporters who spent months on this project researching, doing interviews, writing, and taking the time to really delve into the problem of human trafficking in our state, that we have been able to make changes to crack down on these crimes in North Dakota. It also helped inform my work on the national level in the U.S. Senate.
Since that series came out, which is available on traffickedreport.com, awareness about human trafficking in North Dakota shot up. As I’ve brought federal officials to our state to help communities learn about how to spot and report trafficking, community members have stepped up to participate because they better understood that these crimes were happening in our towns. We may never know how many women and children may have been saved, but because of the work of those local reporters, North Dakotans across the board understand the problem, understand how to spot it, and know who to report their suspicions too. Additionally, because of increased awareness about these crimes, there has been action at the state level. Just in the past few years, the North Dakota legislature passed some of the most sweeping anti-human trafficking laws in the country.
That series helped lead to change. Those reporters provided a public service.
As the attacks on the press have increased in the past several months, I hope North Dakotans remember the value of reporters to making our state and our communities the strong, safe places they are. Local newspapers seek out truth and justice by holding all of us accountable and opening our eyes, and in a free society, that’s something we should all stand by.