Press club president says journalists must always fight for press freedom

By Watta Camara
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer

“Journalism is not a game, it’s a profession that people die for,” said Jeffrey Ballou, the president of the National Press Club, during his speech to Towson University students and faculty on Thursday.

As news editor at Al-Jazeera Media Network and the first African American male to be president of the National Press Club, Ballou provided his insights and perspectives on the current state of press freedom.

“Systematic assault on the free and independent press is still happening,” Ballou said during his roughly 30-minute address.

Ballou emphasized that the U.S. Constitution is just as much for the press as it is for the government, adding that to protect the right of free press, journalists have had to assert themselves as a collective group.

“We have organizations, like the reporter’s committee, that have to have bail money stacked up and attorneys ready, so that they can help these journalists who are just trying to make the constitution live,” he said, referring to the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Jeff Ballou, the president of the National Press Club, addressed press freedom during a speech at Towson Thursday. Photo by Watta Camara.

Jeff Ballou, the president of the National Press Club, addressed press freedom during a speech at Towson University Thursday. Photo by Watta Camara.

Ballou had some critique for the former Baltimore mayor, Stephanie Rawlings Blake, who had ordered a local reporter out of her daily briefings during her term.

“You cannot engage in the act of blocking the public’s right to know how the people they elect and are paying their salary to, are doing the public’s business,” Ballou said.

In regards to covering the White House during the Trump administration, Ballou said that there’s no need for news groups to change their usual methods of reporting news.

With the threats and intimidation that journalists have faced in the past, Ballou said he sees no reason to back down now, especially with a president who “undermines their credibility” by calling them fake news.

“I don’t think fake news is a term,” said Nicole Shakhnazarova, a mass communications student at Towson who attended the speech. “So when I hear that I get angry because us journalists, we just want to report the truth and [lying] is just not what we do.”

Ballou said that news organizations don’t report inaccurate news as often as critics would like the public to believe. When they do, he said, they should apply “household rules” and clean up the messes they make as quickly as possible.

“I think that the obstruction of journalism has been kind of a blanketed event,” said Markus Dieterle, a student reporter for Towson’s newspaper, The Towerlight. “Jeff Ballou really pointed out specific instances in which journalists have been oppressed and imprisoned, beaten, killed, and that really put things into perspective for me. I think [the speech] also added gravity to this profession…You know that we are sort of the frontline in pursuing the truth and it just adds importance to that job.”

Ballou is the 110th president of the National Press Club and is an active member of numerous organizations such as the Society of Professional Journalists.

“The truth is not dead,” said Ballou while closing off his speech.

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