2018 Festival Author Patterson’s One Book SD Calls for Knowledge-Based Reporting

SDSU Graduate to Discuss 'Informing the News' at 2018 Festival

By South Dakota Magazine & South Dakota Humanities Council

Editor's Note: A version of this feature story was originally printed in our 2018 South Dakota Festival of Books Guide, which was produced by South Dakota Magazine. Download a free copy here or by clicking the button below. 

There was a time when a newsman — Walter Cronkite — was referred to as the most trusted man in America. Today, trust in the media is at its lowest level in the history of public opinion polls.

What caused such a precipitous drop, and what can be done to once again place American journalism on solid ground? Thomas E. Patterson adroitly explores both topics in "Informing the News: The Need for Knowledge-Based Journalism."

Patterson Leads Non-Fiction Track, 2018 Initiative

Patterson's book, which is being read and discussed across the state as the 2018 One Book South Dakota, argues that deeply introspective, or "knowledge-based," reporting is crucial to the future of democracy and public information.

Patterson is one of several major authors featured in the non-fiction track at the 16th annual South Dakota Festival of Books, which will be held Sept. 20-23, 2018 with events in Brookings and Sioux Falls. Other tracks include fiction, literature, history/tribal writing, children's/YA, writers' support, and poetry.

The 2018 One Book Author, a graduate of South Dakota State University in Brookings, provides the centerpiece of programming surrounding SDHC's 2018 initiative, "Democracy and the Informed Citizen."

SDHC, in partnership with the South Dakota Newspaper Association, is hosting a series of public forums focusing on public trust and the media featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, current and former journalists, journalism professors and others. SDHC will host a variety of journalism and social media experts at the South Dakota Festival of Books Sept. 20-23, which will feature Patterson as a keynote speaker.

2018 One Book SD author Thomas E. Patterson will discuss

Initiative Dovetails with Patterson's Book

The initiative dovetails perfectly with Patterson's research-driven argument for in-depth, "knowledge based" reporting that would bring greater understanding to complicated issues that are often glossed over in the 24/7 news cycle.

"Public opinion and debate suffer when citizens are misinformed about current affairs, as is increasingly the case," says Patterson. "Though the failures of today's communication system cannot be blamed solely on the news media, they are part of the problem, and the best hope for something better."

He says that journalists must be deeply informed about the subjects they cover to avoid misinterpretation and manipulation by sources. In this book, derived from a multi-year initiative of the Carnegie Corporation and the Knight Foundation, Patterson calls for a major overhaul of journalism practice and education.

Speaking to Journalists and Citizens Concerned About American Democracy

The book speaks not only to journalists but to all who are concerned about the integrity of the information on which America's democracy depends. These are the same two groups targeted by SDHC's "Democracy and the Informed Citizen" initiative.

As the journalist Walter Lippmann noted nearly a century ago, democracy falters "if there is no steady supply of trustworthy and relevant news." Today's journalists are not providing it. Patterson proposes "knowledge-based journalism" as a corrective.

Unless journalists are more deeply informed about the subjects they cover, they will continue to misinterpret them and to be vulnerable to manipulation by their sources.

Patterson calls for nothing less than a major overhaul of journalism practice and education. This book speaks not only to journalists, but to all who are concerned about the integrity of the information on which America's democracy depends.

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

World of 'Infotainment'

Patterson traces the news' gradual fall into a world of "infotainment," where stories are meant to entertain rather than inform. There's blame enough to go around; the book explores different groups or concepts fueling the decline — information, sources, knowledge, education, the audience and democracy itself.

Patterson's solution involves not only training journalists in storytelling, but also ensuring that they gain sufficient knowledge about the topics on which they report.

But is there enough time in today's hectic, never-ending news cycle?

"Compared with past periods, journalists now have less time and fewer resources with which to work, which increases the likelihood of factual errors," Patterson says.

"Newsrooms have been shrinking in size as a result of declining revenues. The number of journalists on staff at newspapers and television stations has been cut by a third, and the decline is continuing. As a result, journalists who remain have been required to produce news stories more often and more quickly. Speed is an enemy of accurate, deeply sourced news."

More About Thomas Patterson

Thomas E. Patterson is Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at the Harvard Kennedy School. Patterson has written several books, including "The Vanishing Voter," which looks at the causes and consequences of electoral participation, and "Out of Order," which received the American Political Science Association's Graber Award as the best book of the decade in political communication.

His first book, "The Unseeing Eye," was named by the American Association for Public Opinion Research as one of the 50 most influential books on public opinion in the past half century. He is also the author of "Mass Media Election: How Americans Choose Their President" (1980), and two general American government texts: "The American Democracy" and "We the People." His articles have appeared in "Political Communication," "Journal of Communication," and other academic journals, as well as in the popular press.

Patterson completed his undergraduate degree at South Dakota State University in Brookings and received his Ph.D from the University of Minnesota in 1971. His research has been funded by the Ford, Markle, Smith-Richardson, Pew, Knight, Carnegie, and National Science foundations. For more on Patterson and the One Book, please visit our One Book SD page.

Thomas Patterson Festival of Books Events, Brookings

More About the South Dakota Festival of Books

To read more about Thomas Patterson and other authors at the 2018 South Dakota Festival of Books, and for scheduling information, click below to download a free copy of the Festival of Books guide produced by South Dakota Magazine.