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Miles: Our world changed in 2020, but our journalistic values will not

Gary Miles
The Detroit News

On this day one year ago, World Health Organization officials picked up a statement on the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission website of a new "viral pneumonia" infecting several people in China.

Three weeks later, the first U.S. case of the novel coronavirus was reported. By March 10, Michigan had its first cases of COVID-19 and, within days, our health care workers, patients and loved ones were overwhelmed by a world they could have scarcely imagined three months earlier.

My, how our lives changed in 2020.

Over the ensuing months, nearly 13,000 Michiganians are believed to have died with COVID-19, and our home lives, school lives, work lives and social lives are dramatically altered.

One thing that didn't change was the mission of The Detroit News — to provide readers with the first accurate accounts on matters of public interest and significance.

In 2020, journalists at The News and detroitnews.com provided your first and most in-depth insights on many important stories, several of them reflected in this section.

For example, the strength of a brave man helped The News reveal that a predacious doctor molested young men for decades at the University of Michigan, where he walked the football sidelines for years after top officials were notified of his conduct.

The News consistently led coverage of the corruption scandal enveloping the UAW,  including the downfall of its two immediate past presidents.

Our politics reporters vigorously covered concerns that mail-in balloting would overwhelm the abilities of Michigan clerks to count votes quickly, a fact that contributed to so-far unsubstantiated voter fraud allegations in Detroit and elsewhere.

The power of investigation, collaboration and data helped The News reveal that residents of the nation's poorest and largest Black-majority city, Detroit, were overcharged $600 million in property taxes following the Great Recession, when assessments did not keep pace with falling values.

We also were the first to report that the coronavirus was disproportionately impacting African Americans in Michigan, a population vulnerable for a number of health and economic reasons.

Stories like those don't get told without reporters willing to hold powerful people and institutions to account.

They also are not told without the courageous citizens who tell our staff what they believe the public should know, sometimes at grave personal risk.

In 1914, Walter Williams set forth a creed to guide our profession, stating "the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of their responsibility, trustees for the public." Successful journalism, it says, "is stoutly independent, unmoved by pride of opinion or greed of power."

They are values The Detroit News holds today, when society remains divided by large and growing chasms between right and left and haves and have-nots.

We mark a new year with hopes that our continued devotion to the ideals of accuracy, fairness and impartiality will help all readers who seek the truth.

We recognize, after all, that as my predecessor at The News wrote early in the last century, "the most valuable asset of any paper is its reputation for telling the truth; the only way to have that reputation is to tell the truth."

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Gary Miles is Editor and Publisher of The Detroit News.