Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Media Companies Need Policy About Political Contributions by Reporters and Editors

MSNBC reported on a story this week about newspaper editors and reporters at various respected publications making contributions to political candidates and causes. Juicy stuff for those who see bias in the media, especially when the story reported they gave to liberal/Democract causes at a rate of 9 to 1.

Here is a snipet from that story by Bill Dedman, an investigative reporter with MSNBC:
Whether you sample your news feed from ABC or CBS (or, yes, even NBC and MSNBC), whether you prefer Fox News Channel or National Public Radio, The Wall Street Journal or The New Yorker, some of the journalists feeding you are also feeding cash to politicians, parties or political action committees. identified 144 journalists who made political contributions from 2004 through the start of the 2008 campaign, according to the public records of the Federal Election Commission. Most of the newsroom checkbooks leaned to the left: 125 journalists gave to Democrats and liberal causes. Only 17 gave to Republicans. Two gave to both parties.

Other local reporters are writing about this same story. Folks like Tony Messenger at the News-Leader.

Journalists in smaller markets have similar pressures (to give to candidates) and a similar interest in causes. Most due not because of journalism ethics.

But what about company policy on this issue?

What is the policy at your newspaper, radio or TV station about political campaign contributions made by reporters, editors, producers and such? If your publication or company does not have an official policy, you might consider following the national trend which is to prohibit all political contributions by journalists to political candidates or parties.

A large part of being fair is the perception of being fair. It isn't possible for a journalist to do objective news stories on a cause or candidate they support.

Forum Attendees Say There is No Simple Way to Help American's Make Ends Meet

Many existing companies offer examples of what is wrong with corporate America and the growing trend of paying non-living wages with no medical insurance.

At least that was the perspective of most participants at a public issues forum hosted by University of Missouri Extension. The forum was aimed at deliberating the trends that are making it harder for working Americans to make ends meet.

We had a very diverse group of attendees who considered three different approaches to solving this problem.

One area of agreement among participants was the need for more childhood financial education.

The group’s consensus was that much of the blame should be placed at the feet of corporate America for taking advantage of workers, at the feet of government for not cracking down on illegal immigrants and on the doorstep of schools and families for not doing a better job of educating children about finances.

While the group expressed real concern for the working poor, the discussion of three different approaches confirmed that there is no single “magic” bullet and all government solutions require tax monies from those who are working.

This group agreed that personal choices (quitting school for example) can lead to a life of hardship, but not everyone who quit high school has money troubles. There are other factors too.

For example, easy credit is part of the problem but our culture, and the fact that many families have become overly materialistic, is a large part of the problem too.

When it was time to talk about the need for living wages and benefits, this discussion group had strong opinions according to Burton.

Partipants in this group felt like the two biggest villains are illegal immigration and corporations who take advantage of employees. One participant who had an engineering degree was a living example of how many Americans work and still can’t make enough for decent housing and insurance. Most of the group faulted American companies for that type of trouble.

The third approach encouraged discussion about how private and government programs have provided a safety net for people with money problems in the past but are now failing.

This group was supportative of help from faith-based groups but skeptical of how far-reaching help from these groups would be. The consensus was that this problem needs government attention.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Somebody is listening - American Idol idea catches on

As many of you know, I offered some thoughts on this blog several weeks ago about doing Presidential searches (or primaries) "American Idol" style. Here is the first column and the follow-up the next week on others who have had a similar idea. I've literally received hundreds of e-mails and telephone calls about the idea. I even had an e-mail from a student in New Zeland about my blog entry.

Well, add Tony Messenger, editorial page editor at the Springfield News-Leader to the list of those thinking about this same idea. His column, "Civilized dialogue on American Idol style television not a bad idea" appeared in print on June 10, 2007.

He writes:
But I thought of this year's American Idol and wondered, what if we combined our terribly inefficient primary and caucus system in which candidates spend literally millions of dollars trying to appease a few voters in Iowa and New Hampshire, and instead we brought the candidates on a stage together, and over a period of weeks, we let America vote?

Robin Carnahan (Missouri Secretary of State) knows the suggestion is riddled with pitfalls, but this is how big ideas begin, she believes. People talk about the possibilities and see where they might lead.

Frankly, our America needs more of that.

It needs more people of both parties willing to throw out big ideas and talk about them and mold them into successes before they are shot down by partisan sniping. ...

Imagine the gaggle of candidates we have running for president right now, all on the same stage, all having to give answers to questions in given topics, week after week. And after their answers are analyzed by a panel of experts — former statesmen, perhaps, sprinkled in with a journalist or two — America votes. Surely in our complicated technical world, we can devise a system to allow only registered voters access to the system. One vote per person per week. And like American Idol, the calls can even cost some minimal amount, and the money can go to charity, or perhaps to the public financing of the final two candidates.

Each week, a Chris Dodd or Sam Brownback falls to the wayside, and the suspense builds.

It would be great television.

It might even be great Democracy. ...

On an even more serious note, maybe the News-Leader and University of Missouri Extension's civic communications specialist in southwest Missouri (me) could work on this type of contest on a more local level. Perhaps we could partner with KSMU radio and KOZK (PBS-TV), do debates for the Mayor of Springfield or other local races, and have viewers call in votes.

I'd be happy to help in anyway I can. I like the idea but I can't make it happen by myself. However, I don't think government can force the idea.

Political parties or political subdivisions can try and force the idea but I'm not sure it will take off that way. We could even try call in votes as an "extra feature" to traditional debates and school board election might be a good time to experiment with it.

However, I don't think the idea will take off locally, regionally or nationally until a candidate is able to harness the popularity something like this promises. It will take a break through by one person to change the tide. Otherwise, candidates will continue to do what their political advisors suggest ... and what they suggest are the traditional methods of campaigning and primaries.

I really think Missouri could be ripe for a populist type of candidate but the problem is that there is not just one statewide media that could provide the statewide type of exposure that a viable candidate would need.

Another problem is that a winner of a competition like this would not have to be accepted by either of the political parties. That is what happened to the winner of the Showtime show "The Candidate." The leadership of the political party in his state said "thanks, but no thanks, we already have a candidate we are backing, and you are not him."

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Blake Mixon, Parkview High School, Springfield, Mo., “The Importance of Free News Media”

Given access to a range of sources for the viewing of world happenings, it is the individual who is provided with opportunity to seek the news from a multitude of perspectives.

Although it is true that many allow all that is read to them from a smiling face on a teleprompter to be understood as truth, the variety within options to obtain world events is far more than surface local news stations, and even respected national affiliates.

The importance of free news media is that there is a free news media.

One must realize that what is relayed unto them may not be exactly what is happening, the word of your friendly local anchor that flows beaming with certainty is only as certain as the person who typed his or her script.

To sound cynical is most certainly not the point to be created, but to view free news media one cannot rely on a certain station if it is in fact necessary to perceive the issues from many view points, not just that smiling face on the television. The realization that news does not merely come from the country one resides is an epiphany of sorts; other nationalities, other countries, other people may not view world events the same as someone such as anyone else.

The ability to be informed by such a plethora of stations and perspectives is a gift, but what is this gift lacking its own utilization? The importance is in relation to the beholder in relation to this free media, but then again, this news media is free, no one is forced to believe these researched objective opinions.

The greatness of this media is equal to the greatness of knowledge obtained, but what is this obtained knowledge lacking self-questioning, self-investigation? This gift of perspectives is only so once it has been applied.

This gift of free speech and research, of knowledge to be obtained, of possibilities of opinions. Being open to interpretation is the greatness of this information, this free news media.

Printing Anonymous Letters to the Editor Puts Public Trust in Newspapers at Risk

Letters to the editor are the most read, discussed and cussed portions of the newspaper.

Offering an editorial forum (page) is one way a newspaper helps to preserve the inalienable right of people in a free society to discuss, question and challenge actions and utterances of our government and of our public institutions.

Journalists uphold the right to speak unpopular opinions and the privilege to either agree or disagree with the majority.

One way that can be done is through the publication of letters to the editor. Letters are printed in order to allow readers an opportunity to express views differing from those of the newspaper or ones expressed by individuals in published articles or other letters.

There are, however, two types of letters that are damaging to a newspaper's reputation as well as the public's trust in what they publish: letters with libelous material and anonymous letters.

Not running libelous letters is a policy universally agreed to by newspapers. Policy's concerning anonymous letters seemed to be a more varied.

However, research shows that running an anonymous letter to the editor is an easy way to get you or the newspaper sued because they are more likely to be filled with misinformation or libel. Because an anonymous letter cannot be identified with a person or group, it has limited value.

As a communication professional focused on helping restore the public trust in the news media, my recommendation is that anonymous letters to the editor should go straight to the spreader.

If a citizen has something truthful and valid to say, they should write a letter without trying to harm others and let the readers evaluate what they have to say in the light of who they are.

Often times, the names of the writer reveal other motives behind a letter. For example, a chairman of one county political party lashes out against the fundraising practices of another.

As a former weekly newspaper editor, I had a saying about letters to the editor -- “A person of integrity does not have to hide when they speak, or write.”

I know other newspapers keep anonymous letters and evaluate the material for potential stories but my experience has been that in probably 95 percent of the cases, that is also a waste of time.

Of course, that perspective is from the fact that I always tried to use the limited space in the weekly newspaper I edited to tell stories that were an essential part of our community journalism effort instead of dealing with rumors and personal arguments.

So here is the bottom line: in order to maintain the public's trust in what is printed, a newspaper's policy should be to pitch anonymous letters to the editor and do everything possible to encourage letters that express a wide range of opinions.

If it's worth saying or putting in writing, it's worth signing. Otherwise, it's worth nothing.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Kevin Demster, junior, Stockton High School, "Why Free News Media Are Important"

Free news media are symbolic with a free nation. A people who do not know what is going on in the world, or even in their own country, are not free. Without free media, a country’s people are limited in their rights and are not truly free-thinking citizens. They are slaves to their government. Just as a standing army is a tool for tyrants, so is a limited news media.

Free news media are important because all people have “unalienable rights,” and it is immoral to take these rights away. Think about how it would be if news media were limited in the United States. The atrocities of tyrants such as Adolph Hitler and Saddam Hussein might have gone unnoticed by the American people. The president may have the power to declare war, but it is the people’s will that forces his hand. Without a catalyst like the American people, we might not have gotten involved in or gotten out of previous war.

Free news media play a vital roll not only war but also in politics. Without free news media, many injustices in Washington, D.C. might have gone unnoticed. Scandals such as Watergate and the Clinton/Lewinsky affair might never have been revealed to the American public. If all politics is local, a free media affects local communities too. When some citizens in Stockton heard (through the local newspaper), the town’s supermarket wanted a liquor license, they petitioned to make their voices heard. They also used their freedom to write letters to the editor. Even though they lost the struggle, and the stores sells alcohol, they used the media to share their ideas. They did not have a dull, chained mindset of a people who are enslaved by their government. They were free to protest.

Recently, a severe ice storm knocked out power for many people in southwest Missouri. When some people were getting their power back on, others were still in the dark. Some people thought the electrical company was acting in a biased way and made their complaints known through the Springfield News-Leader. Others defended the utility company and applauded the workers’ efforts.

Media can change the course of history. Would the American Revolution have even happened without Thomas Paine’s Common Sense? “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered,” wrote Paine, and those words, printed by a free media, inspired people to overthrow the tyranny of the British.

People have a right to know about events, such as the genocide of more than 6 million Jews and about the atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. Many more Americans might have died in the Vietnam War if it had not been televised. People have a right to disagree with the actions of the government, and the world has a right to know about events that affect them.

Free news media are important because they open people’s minds to the events going on in the world, and even in their own backyard; doing so inspires citizens to take action. Letters, newspapers, and television are the tools of free-thinkers, and in fact help people remain free.