LAWRENCE — Newspaper journalists battling "fake news" accusations as their ranks dwindle amid declining revenues remain committed to reporting stories of public interest, a panel of industry representatives assured a standing-room-only crowd Saturday in downtown Lawrence.

About 75 people gathered at the Watkins Museum of History to pepper panelists with questions for an "Enemy of the People" discussion — a reference to media-bashing remarks by President Donald Trump.

Reporters have long been abused for their news stories, said Tim Carpenter, Statehouse bureau chief for The Topeka Capital-Journal, but complaints are perhaps more amplified now by politicians who want to discredit journalists for personal gain.

"I've just had to have a strong backbone for many years because I've tried to write stories that are of compelling interest, and that's made some powerful people unhappy," Carpenter said. "When people complain to me, I first thank them for being a faithful reader of the newspaper, and thank them for commenting and appreciate their perspective, but I'm not going to be bullied and backed down just because the president of the United States thinks I'm an enemy of the American people."

Dena Sattler, former publisher of the Garden City Telegram, Chad Lawhorn, editor of the Lawrence Journal-World, and Dave Helling, an editorial writer at the Kansas City Star, joined Carpenter in the chest-thumping assessment of a burdened industry. Rob Karwath, a journalism instructor at the University of Kansas, moderated the event, which was part of the Free State Festival.

Helling said most people realize the president's comments are merely bluster. The bigger threat to democracy is the declining number of journalists, not attacks on credibility.

More people read newspaper stories than ever before, thanks to their digital prowess, but readers have been reluctant to purchase online subscriptions, and online advertising doesn't compensate for severe revenue losses.

The question, Helling said, is how much do you value journalism?

"I'm quite optimistic, because people are smart and they love their communities, and they know the best way to run their communities is for everyone to have a good basis of knowledge of what's going on," Helling said.

In the meantime, Lawhorn said, newsrooms are trying to ask what their communities care about most so they can set priorities. Fewer resources mean reporters work harder.

"The productivity squeeze is not pleasant," he said.

Carpenter said technology allows him to work six or seven days per week, but he remains frustrated by not being able to devote more time to in-depth projects.

He pointed to stories he wrote last year about toxic leadership in the Kansas National Guard as an example of meaningful work. The series led the Kansas Press Association to give him the Victor Murdock Award, which recognizes excellence in newspaper storytelling, for a sixth time. The Kansas City Press Club twice named him Journalist of the Year and gave him a lifetime achievement award.

"It's not a very pleasant future, but I'm hanging on by my fingernails, and I'm going to fight to write good, interesting stories until the bitter end," Carpenter said. "And so I know that's not very optimistic, but from the front lines, I'm going to keep fighting until they kick me out the door."