Democracy and the Informed Citizen: Join our Efforts to Solidify the Media Presence in our State, Nation

Celebrating National Newspaper Week

Editor's Note: This blog post has been updated to include information about journalism-related Festival of Books events, as well as to add information about National Newspaper Week, which we support wholeheartedly as part of our yearlong "Democracy and the Informed Citizen" initiative, the basis for our original editorial below. 

“Journalism matters. Now more than ever” is a fitting theme for National Newspaper Week 2018, which was observed in October.  

To show our support of this important recognition of our nation's newspapers, we're re-posting a blog we published this fall about truth and accountability in the news and our 2018 "Democracy and the Informed Citizen" initiative. We also encourage you to read this column about National Newspaper Week by South Dakota Newspaper Association executive director David Bordewyk. SDNA has partnered with us on the initiative. 

We've been promoting the importance of an informed citizenry throughout the year leading up to the appearance of well-known media experts at the September 2018 South Dakota Festival of Books, including Thomas E. Patterson, Andy Boyle, Jacqui Banaszynski, Timothy Egan and Linsey Davis. 

Patterson, Boyle, Banaszynski and Davis discussed the state of the media during their session "Modern Media: How Did We Get Here? Where Do We Go Now?" Patterson, author of the 2018 One Book S.D., "Informing the News," also delivered a keynote lecture about the importance of reliably-sourced news reporting and discerning news sources. 

Meanwhile, Pulitzer Prize winner and National Book Award winner Timothy Egan, a columnist for the New York Times, spoke with fellow Pulitzer winner Jacqui Banaszynski about long-term changes in the media during “Tough Topics, Pulitzer Prizes: How Our Content and Its Coverage Have Changed Over the Years."

Scroll down to see photos of those events. Read on for our thoughts on informed citizenry and democracy in 2018, and please help us support our news ecosystem by subscribing to your local newspaper. 

From left to right, media experts Thomas E. Patterson, Andy Boyle, Jacqui Banaszynski and Linsey Davis discuss the state of the media during Saturday's session,

From left to right, media experts Thomas E. Patterson, Andy Boyle, Jacqui Banaszynski and Linsey Davis discuss the state of the media during Saturday's session, "Modern Media: How Did We Get Here? Where Do We Go Now?" as part of SDHC's 2018 Democracy and the Informed Citizen initiative. SDHC is re-posting its blog in honor of National Newspaper Week. 

Maintaining Editorial Checks and Balances

By the South Dakota Humanities Council

It is hard to imagine losing the editorial checks and balances that protect our First Amendment rights, our freedom of information.

These rights have been championed throughout history by traditional media outlets, some of whom stood against dictatorial attempts to censor public information. And while the First Amendment is not currently under direct attack, it is indirectly threatened by the potential extinction of traditional media, as digitization continues to divide both our attention spans and our already partisan nation. We must re-establish positive relationships with traditional media.

Bolstered by a grant from the Carnegie Mellon Institution, the South Dakota Humanities Council and the South Dakota Newspaper Association hosted "Democracy and the Informed Citizen" public forums this year focused on reinforcing public value for our media. 

Moving Forward as an Informed Democracy

We must fight for our media the way our media has historically fought for us, such as when the Washington Post battled the Nixon administration to publish the Pentagon Papers in 1971.

At the time, Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlee and publisher Katherine Graham worried about litigation and backlash from President Richard Nixon and the value of their recently offered public shares. But they ultimately reported the ugly truth of the Vietnam War.

The Post decided the public's right to know what the government was hiding outweighed tangible risks to the paper's existence. As revenue losses threaten traditional media, we must secure our news ecosystem and its ability to audaciously reveal such wrongdoings. "Democracy and the Informed Citizen" examines the state of news in 2018 and considers ways to move forward as an informed, cohesive democracy.

Traditional media faces an onslaught of new challenges in this frenzied smartphone era: a President who announces his own news via Twitter, accusations of "fake news," competition from online outlets restrained by neither accountability nor industry standards.

Gaining credibility is no longer as easy as printing a newspaper or broadcasting a signal. Ironically, traditional media outlets are chastised as much as or more than their uncredentialed digital counterparts, some of which earn money by spreading intentional lies. As digital advertising revenue lines the pockets of online publications, newspapers, television and radio stations have no choice but to chase the same online clicks. Meanwhile, truth and accountability trail behind.

By asking "What's True, What's False, and What's Important?" our forums lead us to perhaps the most salient question: how do we know which sources to trust?

Martin Baron spoke about the

Washington Post editor Martin Baron spoke about the "Democracy and the Informed Citizen" Initiative at an April 2018 event at the University of South Dakota.

Be 'Highly Suspicious' of Sources That Reinforce Your Point of View

During our kickoff event at the University of South Dakota in April, we asked Washington Post editor Martin Baron, a 14-time Pulitzer Prize winner.

The veteran editor's advice? Think critically.

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

We're promoting infoliteracy, a relatively new skill necessitated by our complex digital media era. An infoliterate citizen distinguishes real news from fake news by recognizing and dismissing biased sources.

In 1971, The Post faced factual disputes, as newspapers have since the invention of the printing press, but not the extra layer of mistrust created by "fake news," which forces readers to sort stories fabricated by agenda-seekers and liars from those written by real reporters.

Graham's courageous decision to publish led to a Supreme Court decision that the McNamara Report - and its stunning revelation that the government promoted a war it knew was unwinnable - was public property. It also boosted the paper's reputation.

Discern Sources of Information

Democracy depends on us to support news reporting capable of challenging the institutions we depend upon and trust.

We must discern our sources of information.

Ruling in favor of The Post and the New York Times, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote: "In the absence of the governmental checks and balances present in other areas of our national life, the only effective restraint upon executive policy and power in the areas of national defense and international affairs may lie in an enlightened citizenry—in an informed and critical public opinion which alone can here protect the values of democratic government."

We hope the 2018 initiative will encourage citizens to value media institutions that are willing to stake their names and reputations on their reporting, and to be part of the "informed and critical public opinion" that makes our democracy special. 

 
 

 “Upcoming 'Democracy' Events


 One Book SD “Informing the News” Discussions 

November 14, 2018

"Informing the News" Discussion, Timber Lake
Dewey County Library
2:00 pm - 3:00 pm
Scholar: Greg Garon

Venue Address: 712 S Main, Timber Lake

Sponsored By: Dewey County Library

For more information, contact: Julie Landis <dewcolibrary@tlsd.us>

November 26, 2018

"Informing the News" Discussion, Scotland
Scotland Community Library
7:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Scholar: Marilyn Carlson Aronson

Venue Address: 221 Juniper St, Scotland

Sponsored By: Scotland School/Community Library

For more information, contact: Michelle Kass <michelle.kass@k12.sd.us>


For more details on the initiative, including programming and forum information, please visit sdhumanities.org/democracy email info@sdhumanities.org or call (605) 688-6113. 

More 'Democracy & the Informed Citizen' Photos from the Festival

Festival attendees listen to media experts Thomas E. Patterson, Andy Boyle, Jacqui Banaszynski and Linsey Davis discuss the state of the media during Saturday's session, "Modern Media: How Did We Get Here? Where Do We Go Now?"

Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Jacqui Banaszynski and Timothy Egan discuss a variety of current media issues during

Jacqui Banaszynski and Timothy Egan, who won the Pulitzer Prize while working for the St. Paul Pioneer Press and New York Times, respectively, discuss a variety of current media issues during "Tough Topics, Pulitzer Prizes: How Our Content and Its Coverage Have Changed Over the Years."

Thomas E. Patterson, author of the 2018 One Book S.D.,

Thomas E. Patterson, author of the 2018 One Book S.D., "Informing the News," delivers his keynote lecture at the SDSU Performing Arts Center, Larson Memorial Concert Hall.

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