Baron Appearance Kicks Off Democracy & Informed Citizen Initiative

Martin Baron, Washington Post Executive Editor, (above, left, with Gene Policinski, president of the Newseum Institute, at a USD news conference) received the 2017 Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in The Media from the University of South Dakota and hosted a public forum at the Al Neuharth Media Center in Vermillion on Thursday, April 26. Baron's appearance at USD is part of a series of events SDHC is promoting and producing as part of its 2018 programming initiative, "Democracy and the Informed Citizen."

Executive Editor and Pulitzer Winner Entertains, Advises Large Audience in Vermillion

By Ryan Woodard

The USD campus buzzed with excitement this week as one of the nation’s most famous journalists spoke to students, staff and members of the public about the importance of journalism.

Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron received the 2017 Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in The Media and was a featured guest in Vermillion on April 26. He answered questions and advised students during an exclusive session, appeared at a news conference and hosted a public forum in front of a large audience at the Al Neuharth Media Center.

Baron's appearance at USD is the first in a series of events SDHC is promoting and producing as part of its 2018 programming initiative, "Democracy and the Informed Citizen."

USD President Jim Abbott introduces Martin Baron, Executive Editor of the Washington Post, during a public forum at the University of South Dakota April 26.

USD President Jim Abbott introduces Martin Baron, Executive Editor of the Washington Post, during a public forum at the University of South Dakota April 26.

Baron's Advice: Be 'Highly Suspicious' of 'Pandering' News Sources

Martin Baron, Washington Post Executive Editor (left) discusses the state of news in 2018 with Gene Policinski of the Newseum Institute during a public forum at the University of South Dakota April 26.

Martin Baron, Washington Post Executive Editor (left) discusses the state of news in 2018 with Gene Policinski of the Newseum Institute during a public forum at the University of South Dakota April 26.

"Democracy and the Informed Citizen" examines the critical role of journalism and the power of the humanities to enrich understanding of local and national issues and inspire citizen engagement. SDHC is one of 49 humanities councils in the U.S. to receive local funding for the initiative. SDHC also received funding for the 2016 Pulitzer Prize Centennial Campfires initiative.

Programming will explore "infoliteracy"—the skills needed to determine source quality, to recognize biases that can distort reporting, and to navigate the proliferating media available to consumers. 

At the USD event, Baron told audience members to avoid information sources that "pander" to audiences and to find publications that offer multiple perspectives. 

"If that's all they do is they're trying to reinforce your point of view, you should be highly suspicious of those news sources, because that's their purpose," he said. "Their purpose is just to tell you that you're right all the time."

Baron is uniquely qualified to answer questions about reliable news coverage. Not only is he leading a newsroom of 800-plus staffers at the Washington Post, which some consider to be the top newspaper of the digital era, but he also earned a Pulitzer Prize (one of his 14) as editor of The Boston Globe for his newsroom's coverage of a sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic archdiocese of Boston.

Baron was played by actor Liev Schreiber in the 2015 movie "Spotlight," which told the story of the paper's coverage. The movie won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay.

More 'Democracy' Events Ahead

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded $1.7 million to the Federation of State Humanities Councils in June for "Democracy and the Informed Citizen."

As part of a special partnership created to promote the initiative, SDHC and the South Dakota Newspaper Association will host a series of public forums focusing on public trust and the media. The 12 South Dakota forums will feature Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, current and former journalists, journalism professors and others.

In conjunction with this democracy-themed programming, groups around the state will read and discuss the 2018 One Book South Dakota, "Informing the News: The Need for Knowledge-Based Journalism" by Thomas E. Patterson.

SDHC will also host journalism and social media experts at the South Dakota Festival of Books in September, which will feature Patterson and other notable writers who will be announced in the coming months. Subscribe to our e-newsletter to receive alerts about these upcoming events.