As you all know, the College of Public Affairs and Administration is home to several award winning programs and faculty. One of those distinctive programs is the Public Affairs Reporting Program. This Master’s Program trains students to become journalists who produce intelligent news coverage that helps audiences understand government, politics and other public affairs. Journalists, who emerge from this program fully prepared to cover these issues, will nonetheless face two major hurdles.
The first obstacle will be a growing belief in popular culture that “the news” is somehow fake or can’t be trusted. This belief runs counter to the very foundation of journalism. Journalists are trained to be objective observers, uncover the facts, keep sources confidential and question stakeholders, citizens, politicians, corporate and military leaders, and their institutions. The purpose is to shed light, provide transparency, ferret out lies and insure accuracy. Indeed, this focus on the truth is the fundamental role of a free press in democratic society.
The reporters who graduate from our PAR program embrace these tenets. But what journalists confront today is a rejection of truth and transparency by readership especially when news stories run counter to readers’ personal beliefs, ideals or views. Consumers of news are free to not agree with the story or take issue with the portrayal of events, question how facts are presented, or even ignore any editorial slant but, they are not excused from thinking, engaging, considering and balancing facts, opinions, events, organizations or people in pursuit of the truth. A broader view and different perspectives is what keeps democracy relevant. Having a different perspective is fine, but ignoring facts and the truth is a problem. Yes, the same story you read in the Wall Street Journal may not be quite the same story as the New York Times, and of course, what you see on Fox News may be very different from the story on CNN. That is precisely why citizens need to get their news from a variety of sources (not just one). Being a consumer of news today requires active thinking and isn’t that a hallmark of the engaged citizen? Don’t just blame the media, instead embrace the role of “citizen” in order to make decisions about where our democracy should head in the future.
If one obstacle wasn’t enough for journalism, the other is the demise of hometown newspapers, loss of new bureaus, and the conglomeration of media by corporate giants. There are two inherent dangers of these developments: a) The loss of a connection to local government, grassroots politics, community trends, and frankly an informed local citizenry; and b) A lack of scope and depth of coverage to issues that matter to local, regional and statewide constituencies. Each of these trends dilute the salience of journalism as a cornerstone of democracy.
Yet, good journalism is out there. Journalists work hard on their stories. And students continue to study to be journalists. For those of you concerned about some of these issues, do not hesitate to reach out to our UIS Public Affairs Reporting Program and send potential students our way, support the program financially, put in a good word about this one of a kind program in the nation, and maybe just stay in contact with the program as alumni, friends or concerned citizens.
On Sunday, May 3, 2020 we celebrated World Press Freedom Day. We will be celebrating the whole week and month. Feel free to join us! (Tune into to PAR Director Jason Piscia’s reflections on World Press Freedom Day on our Web Page and Social Media and our CPAA Blog, The Capitol Connection).
An independent media sector draws its power from the community it serves and in return empowers that community to be full a partner in the democratic process. World Press Freedom Day, 2020.
Dr. Robert W. Smith
College of Public Affairs and Administration
If you have questions, feel free to connect with us and request more information!