Tools of the trade: Reminders that the power of a free and independent press is greater than our challenges

TPA President Laurie Ezzell Brown

While digging through some old files the other day, I ran across a folder containing a set of index cards titled “Tools of the Trade” that I’d helped my dad – former Record publisher Ben R. Ezzell – prepare three decades earlier. They were part of an exhibit prepared for Canadian High School students – props he used for a presentation on careers in print journalism.
Whatever I had been seeking in those files was instantly forgotten, as is always the danger when the present stumbles across the past. I was transported in time. 
Among the tools my dad had assembled were the requisite pica pole and T-square; a copy roller; a post office mailing sack; photo negatives and contact sheets, along with a roll of film; and his pride and joy, a 35mm Canon camera. In a nod to the not-so-distant past, he included a photo engraving, a block of hand-set type and a small model of an early printing press, which he always kept on his desk.
Though it was essential to the production of every fiery editorial he ever wrote, the early-1900s-era Underwood typewriter on which my dad still pounded out copy did not make the trip – perhaps because it weighed in at 35 pounds or so. Nor did the massive dictionary that lived on a library stand near the editor’s desk, its leather binding well worn, its spine cracked and tattered from frequent use.
Other than the printed newspaper that was part of his exhibit, most of those tools could be museum pieces today, though they all still have a treasured place at The Record office, as I imagine they do at many of yours.
I was struck, then, by the remarkable transformation that has taken place in our profession, and by the dizzying number of times we’ve reinvented what we do and how we do it. As a child, I was transfixed by the massive Rube Goldberg-like Linotype, which rattled and clanked and hummed as it turned molten metal into slugs of type – forming words and sentences like those I churn out today on a featherweight MacBook Pro laptop.
Most journalists have welcomed the rapid advance of digital technology. It has reshaped the means and manner in which we gather and deliver information to our readers. 
Although many of the tools of the trade have changed, one has not — as I was forcefully reminded when I turned to the very last index card in the pile. It read:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
And there it was: the most powerful tool of them all, and the one most essential to the role we serve, to the responsibilities with which we are entrusted, and to the rights we must courageously defend. Without it, none of those other tools really matter.
Thank you to the members of the Texas Press Association — my second family — for the great honor of being allowed to serve as president. I assure you that the TPA staff is working tirelessly on your behalf to ensure government transparency, to preserve public notice laws, and to fight the devastating newsprint tariffs that threaten our ability to continue this important work. They need our support, and deserve our thanks.
The challenges we face are great. The power of the free and independent press is greater – but only if we wield it with wisdom and courage.