About 180 people attend discussion on ‘Democracy and the Future of Journalism’

October 19, 2018 GMT

SCOTTSBLUFF — A free press and democracy are so closely intertwined that they are almost synonymous. With both inherently necessary to the success of our country, the public and members of the media converged at the Midwest Theater for an open forum on “An Issue of Trust: Democracy and the Future of Journalism” on Thursday, Oct. 18. There were roughly 180 people in attendance.

Before opening the forum to the public, moderator Steve Chatelain asked the panel, why is good journalism important in a democracy?

“We are a nation of checks and balances,” said panelist Anna Staver, who is a political reporter for The Denver Post. “I really see journalism as a check that our public institutions like our hospitals, businesses and politicians, are all working in our best interest.”

Beyond informing the public about the activities of public officials, KFOR Radio anchor and broadcaster with Alpha Media, Charlie Brogan shared how journalism is the first level of writing history.

“We rely on journalism and good journalists to keep a record of events that go on in a community or industry.”

Clark Kauffman, who is an investigative reporter for The Des Moines Register said, “Journalism and a free press are important because they are an essential ingredient to democracy.”

For an hour and half, the public led the discussion on democracy and journalism by presenting questions to the panel. There was discussion about separating journalism from entertainment, particularly from a national media perspective. Staver argued that all news needs to contain a narrative art that draws in the readers on an emotional level, however, there is a fine line to keep the piece interesting without making it an entertainment piece or making it boring.

Brogan brought up the idea of what is news. He said, “in a sense, news is something you didn’t know before and in another sense, it reports on the entertainment industry, so there is a lot of different types of news.”

Along with the discussion about news coverage, the panel addressed how journalists reassure their audience that bias does not drive what they write and report on in the community. While bias is present in everyone, Staver said the journalist’s job is to ensure that the method for composing a piece is objective. “It’s important to note that it’s not necessarily that the journalist is objective,” she said. “It’s the method, which is supposed to correct for what I believe.”

When reporters and editors compile content for the newspaper, the selection process is important to assess for potential biases in coverage, particularly when it comes to political matters. However, Kauffman pointed out that while the majority of the newspaper presents information in an unbiased fashion, editorials are designed to demonstrate an opinion. He said, “if it’s a good editorial, it should have a very specific view point, but of course, that is separate from the rest of the newspaper.”

Brogan added that on a national level, the issue with reporting bias arose 21 years ago with the emergence of television news stations that promote different agendas. With the specific direction of those stations, Brogan said the American public has a checks and balances on the news media by choosing what to watch, read, and listen. “Today, a lot of the problem with the media is that it continues to spread where there is a news medium for every chain of opinion,” he said. “Rather than presenting you with a variety of ideas to explore and digest, you’re now able to go to one medium that agrees with your preconceptions and just rally around it.”

In recent years, the term fake news has made its way into the mainstream media as well as into the political arena. Staver warned about the dangers of the source of the news, especially when looking at online sources that appear to be legitimate. She suggested checking the about me page of the website to validate the materials people consume and to be a more savvy news consumer due to the plethora of mediums the public has access to via the internet.

With the easy access to the internet, Brogan noted how the number of news outlets continues to grow, which means there are more voices on issues and less people listening and thinking about what they are saying.

Kauffman addressed President Donald Trump’s comments about the press. “When he calls the press the enemy of the people that in itself is damaging to this critical element of democracy,” said Kauffman.

Staver and Brogan were both optimistic about the future of journalism in our democracy because of its role in the function of the country and people’s interest in their community and local, state, and national government. Kauffman was not optimistic about the future of journalism. He said the problem he sees is at the mid-sized and smaller media outlets that no longer have reporters covering local government. “I don’t just mean going to city council meetings,” he said. “I mean going to the file cabinets and digging out information and doing enterprise reporting.”

Prior to engaging in a panel discussion, people enjoyed a business after hours event in the lobby of the theater.

The open forum was sponsored by the Star-Herald, KNEB, the Chadron State Eagle and Humanities Nebraska.

The “Democracy and the Future of Journalism” discussion is part of a national initiative to deepen the public’s understanding of the vital role of journalism in democracy to maintain an informed citizenry.

For more information on media literacy visit humanitiesnebraska.org/trust/resources.