Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


The Pulitzer Prize winners and finalists announced on Monday — including the Star Tribune in the Investigative Reporting category — reflected journalism's possibilities.

Journalism's perils were made clear last week on World Press Freedom Day, with the release of the World Press Freedom Index, which evaluates the environment for journalism in 180 countries.

The news about news environments worldwide is not good. The situation is "very serious" in 31 countries, "difficult" in 42, "problematic" in 55, and "good" or "satisfactory" in only 52.

Those fortunate 52 countries are disproportionately in Western Europe, with Nordic nations giving many Minnesotans yet another reason to be proud of their heritage. Norway was ranked first for the seventh straight year, followed closely by Denmark, Sweden and Finland, which ranked third through fifth, respectively. Ireland jumped four spots to rank second.

While more restrictive nations are prevalent worldwide, the bottom three are in East Asia: Vietnam, China and North Korea (178th through 180th, respectively).

This year, the index especially emphasized "the rapid effects that the digital ecosystem's fake-content industry has had on press freedom." In two-thirds of the countries, "political actors" were "systematically involved in massive disinformation or propaganda campaigns," the report stated.

"It seems that every day we're seeing new examples of the way that states can use these emerging technologies in order to confuse the information space," Clayton Weimers, executive director of Reporters Without Borders USA, said during a World Press Freedom Day event revealing the index. These efforts often aren't attempting to make people believe an untruth, but "to make you believe nothing at all. And that, in many ways, is one of the authoritarian regimes' most powerful tools against journalists and journalism ... it dilutes their power, it dilutes their message, it dilutes the truth overall."

Some countries combine such tactics with brute force. Like Russia, ranked 164th, where "almost all independent media have been banned, blocked and/or declared 'foreign agents' or 'undesirable organizations,'" according to the index, which adds that "All others are subject to military censorship."

Or, in the words of Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who spoke at the event, "wrongfully detaining people" being used as "political pawns" for leverage. Blinken was specifically referring to Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal correspondent held by the Kremlin in what the State Department has determined is an "unlawful detention" — a hostage situation, basically, Blinken said, "profoundly, unjustly, for doing his job."

It's part of a global pattern that Weimers said resulted in the highest number of jailed journalists "since we started counting." Overall, he added, "the state of press freedom around the world seems to be getting increasingly volatile." That's reflected in the unusually wide swings in rankings, the report indicates, including positive cases like Brazil's 18-place rise and Senegal's 31-place fall, variances often attributed to political changes.

The U.S. ranking didn't move as dramatically, but it moved in the wrong direction, down three notches to 45th place. As with most countries, the reasons were many. Overall the index said that "major structural barriers to press freedom persist in this country once considered a model for freedom of expression."

That scaffolding of that model still exists, as the Pulitzer Prizes attest. Building back to be the global model should be the goal of all Americans.