Newspapers and publishers are rarely themselves the subject of newspaper articles. However, today I want to take the opportunity to write about Joe McQuaid, publisher of this newspaper, and the importance of newspapers in general to a healthy public life and discussion. Newspapers at their core are the foundation of all the other freedoms we have the luxury of taking for granted in a society so open and free that we don’t seem to notice anymore.
Tonight, my organization, the Josiah Bartlett Center, will honor Joe McQuaid with its annual Libertas Award. The award is meant to symbolize the inseparable link between individual and economic freedom. None of those freedoms is possible without the unfettered gathering and distribution of information that defines newspapers.
Newspapers are often said to compose a first, rough draft of history. Tyrants, petty and grandiose, seek to influence or control the drafting of their own history. Chiseling away at the independence of the story can take many forms. Controlling what information is revealed to the public, which documents are released, and what the public can be permitted to see are all soft forms of control and censorship.
The more extreme forms of control are the subject of a fascinating discussion in journalist Anne Applebaum’s history of the crushing of Eastern Europe. Totalitarians — seeking total control — first limited free presses (only the newspapers they liked received paper rations), then abolished open information entirely because of the extraordinary threat it poses to control.
We honor Joe McQuaid tonight because he represents the opposite impulse and one that defines the American newspaper industry he grew up in. Because he’s such a familiar part of the community, we forget the history that Joe brings with him.
He describes himself as the third of four generations of a New Hampshire newspapering family. True to the roots of that history, Joe McQuaid’s work has been dedicated to ensuring that the first draft and later drafts of history are both accurate and independent. In an era of changing newspaper economics, it can be difficult for newspapers to remain local and distinctive; avoiding the pitfalls of generic and distant management.
Joe’s own description of his work to secure the perpetual independence of the paper was cited in an award from the New England Press Association and leaves no doubt about the mission and importance of independent watchdogs: “cookie-cutter homogenization may be fine for widgets and fast foods and price-to-earnings ratios, but I don’t think it is likely to inspire many publishers to follow Chicago Times’ founder Wilbur Story’s dictum of 140 years ago: ‘it is a newspaper’s duty to print the news, and raise hell.’”
But Joe’s efforts to secure a free and independent future aren’t just about one newspaper. Through his work at the Nackey Loeb School of Communications, Joe has supported and honored the work of competing newspapers and helped to train future journalists in good writing and reporting, elements that shouldn’t be lost to the fashions of aggregators and tweeters.
In his work as a publisher and editor, he has been a strong editorial voice for market solutions to problems and judging public policy independent of partisan politics. As important as his editorials have been to economic and individual freedom, his work has made clear that reporting the first draft of history can be independent of and uncompromised by other considerations.
Too many people presume that ideas must be subsumed to the political needs of individuals. No one reading any publication Joe is involved with is under any such illusion.
I have had the privilege of a regular platform in these pages for the better part of a decade. I know firsthand about the independence of information. In 10 years and hundreds of individual columns, not once has anyone ever suggested I rewrite anything, tone down anything, suggested a topic, encouraged or discouraged a subject no matter how annoying the resulting opinion or prose might be.
If I can close on a personal note, I first met Joe not as a newspaperman, but as the husband of a friend of mine. I’ve known him as a devoted and caring husband, a very proud father and grandfather, and an interested member of his community. Beneath a quiet, taciturn exterior lurks a soft and sentimental heart that is really not hidden very well at all.
Joe is being honored tonight for his work opening government to the people, promoting the independence of information, and supporting the economic freedom at the heart of our system, but also for just being an all-round good egg.
Charles M. Arlinghaus is president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank in Concord.