Minneapolis Opened its Courts. It's Imperative Others do Too | Opinion

In 1913, before being nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, Louis Brandeis wrote in Harper's Weekly: "Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman."

Brandeis was writing then about the need for greater transparency in the financial system, but his words ring true across every facet of civic life today.

Our democracy relies on the principles of representation, the assumption that the leaders we elect serve at our behest. For representational democracy to function, we, the country's citizens, need to be trusted with the transparency we require to make informed decisions.

Facilitating that transparency, even fighting for it, has long been the role of the professional journalist.

Often referred to as the Fourth Estate, the news media is the unofficial ombudsman for the people, there to hold the powerful accountable. The news media comes with no enforcement powers, only the ability to shine a light into the cracks, crevices and corners of our nation where societal ills tend to grow and fester in the darkness. And while we shine the light Brandeis referred to, we avoid drawing conclusions on behalf of our viewers and readers.

Over the course of my career as a journalist and now as the leader of a journalism company, I have fought for cameras in the courtroom, for access to public records and for open meetings so that the business of the people could be on full display for the people. Every week in ours and countless other newsrooms, journalists fight for that same access to information in order to do their jobs—to keep the public informed about holding those in power accountable.

George Floyd
Demonstrators carry a scroll listing the names of people killed by police during a march in honor of George Floyd on March 7, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

In just the last year alone, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press provided legal support to media organizations seeking judicial records in high-profile court access cases that led to major revelations for issues affecting many Americans—from the opioid crisis to government surveillance to the ongoing investigation into late financier Jeffrey Epstein.

None of the reporting that came from these revelations would have been possible without access. And while I believe this kind of transparency lends itself to enhancing credibility, the rights and privileges granted to us in our democracy come with great responsibility. Frankly speaking, too many media companies have abandoned the ideal, abdicating their responsibilities and therefore contributing to the rising mistrust in professional journalism.

Last week at Scripps, Court TV began live gavel-to-gavel coverage of the trial of Derek Chauvin, beginning with jury selection.

The former Minneapolis police officer stands charged in the death of George Floyd, which sparked the nation's most significant conversations around race and criminal justice in at least 20 years. Floyd's death, captured from multiple angles by police body cameras and bystander cell phones, has been broadcast, picked apart and shared all over the world. The court of public opinion may have been influential in debating important social justice issues raised by this tragic event, but now a jury in an actual court of law should determine what happened and who will be held responsible.

Judge Peter Cahill made the right call in ruling on the side of the American people when he supported our request for cameras in the courtroom. As a result, Scripps' Court TV cameras will be able to provide the transparency the American people deserve while also providing the pool coverage other media outlets need in order to serve their viewers.

We'll do so recognizing the grave responsibility we have to give Court TV's viewers a court gallery view of the trial with restraint and humility. We urge other media outlets to continue to ask—and fight, when necessary—for access to the information we need to inform our audiences.

Adam Symson is president and CEO of The E.W. Scripps Company and a former investigative broadcast journalist for local and national television outlets. He also serves as a board member for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.