Democracy and the Informed Citizen

Investigating the State of the Media

"Democracy and the Informed Citizen" is the 2018 South Dakota Humanities Council programming initiative that examined 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. that received funding for the initiative, which was kicked off in South Dakota with a special event at the University of South Dakota April 26. 

Martin Baron, Washington Post Executive Editor, hosted a public forum at the Al Neuharth Media Center in Vermillion on Thursday, April 26, the first in a series of events SDHC promoted as part of the initiative. Baron, who received the 2017 Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in The Media from USD, said the questions raised by the initiative are both important and difficult to answer. 

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."

"Democracy and the Informed Citizen" was funded as part of a national initiative supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and administered by the Federation of State Humanities Councils, according to the Federation. "In 2016, as questions related to journalism and the media increased throughout the presidential campaign and in other events, the Federation and Pulitzer again collaborated to develop a new opportunity for programs designed to examine what it means to be an informed citizen in a democracy."

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.

Anchoring 2018 Democracy and the Informed Citizen programming was the 2018 One Book South Dakota "Informing the News" by Thomas Patterson, who argues that deeply introspective, or "knowledge-based," reporting is crucial to the future of democracy and public information.

Keynotes Featured in Programming Initiative

Working with SDNA, South Dakota Public Broadcasting and other academic and media partners, SDHC produced keynote events featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning authors and journalists at the 2018 South Dakota Festival of Books. 

"The work that journalists do to provide news and information every day helps citizens make informed decisions and be more engaged in our democracy," said SDNA Executive Director David Bordewyk. "This is an essential role for newspapers and all news media in South Dakota."

Thematic programming in 2018 explored "infoliteracy"—the skills needed to determine source quality, to recognize biases that can distort reporting, and to navigate the proliferating media available to consumers.