Can Media Elevate Our Public Discourse?

As part of Some Books Make Us Free—our rare books and art exhibit on American citizenship’s deep cultural divisions created in partnership with the Harrison Center and the Remnant Trust—we talked with some of Indiana’s foremost leaders in the media about the challenges facing citizens and members of our news establishment. Panelists included Nate Feltman from the Indianapolis Business Journal, Oseye Boyd from the Indianapolis Recorder, Dan Spehler from Fox 59, and Abdul-Hakim Shabazz from the popular radio show, Abdul at Large

Watch the Full Panel Discussion on Media and Public Discourse

Enjoy a virtual tour of the exhibit, some books make us free

By Alexandra Hudson

Nate Feltman offered that it’s important to take a historical and a global perspective when it comes to the challenges with our democratized media culture today.

First, the historical perspective. Everyone has virtually unlimited access to information, and anyone with a smart phone and a twitter account can be a journalist. This democratization of information and access to news in real time is generally a positive trend. We no longer have gate keepers—the pope, a single media establishment, the government, as exists countries such as North Korea today—controlling what information we have and when.

Second, the global perspective. The democratization of information and access to the media has also promoted further freedom and democratization. The Arab Spring wouldn’t have happened without social media. There are countless other examples.

But, as well know, this democratic trend with our media and information culture isn’t all good. To combat the forces of tribadism and the reality of pervasive mis-information, our panelists had some astute suggestions.

Dan Spehler suggested reminded that with these new freedoms come new responsibilities. Dan suggested that consumers must take greater ownership over how they consume media, and what they consume. People like freedoms and rights more than they like responsibilities and duties, so the obligations we each have to steward our freedoms well when it comes to media consumption and promotion often gets lost in the conversation. But it’s more important than ever that media consumers to recognize the role we each play in elevating our public discourse and media culture through our everyday decisions.

Abdul-Hakim Shabazz gave us a fun example of a way that we can each be a part of a more rigorous and less harmful media culture. Abdul purposed the Tootsie Pop Rule that might help us better vet information sources ourselves, and ideally reduce the spread of misinformation.

Spinning off the famous ad campaign for Tootsie Pops – “How many licks does it take to get to the center?”— Abdul suggested instead asking for consumers to count “How many clicks does it take to get to the original source of this news article.” If it takes more than three, you’re probably looking at a piece of misinformation.

On the topic of how to elevate our media culture and restore trust between consumers and reporters Oseye Boyd gave us the “Three Es” that inform how she operates her newsroom at the Indianapolis Recorder: information must be educational, empowering, and engaging. Ideally, each article would have a third “e,” too: entertaining.

Oseye shared how she also makes efforts to inform people around her—parents, family, friends, readers—of the high ethical standards that The Recorder operates me.

All members of the panel agreed: they’d rather be second to a story and get it right than be first to report and get it wrong.

I left the conversation so encouraged that there are such thoughtful individuals leading our media culture. It made me think there might be hope for elevating our public discourse in the days to come.  I’m sure you will, too.

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