While comedians, commentators and politicians take public discourse to seemingly endless heights of obscenity, grotesque imagery and even physical violence, about 85 cooler heads met at Springdale Presbyterian Church Sunday evening to try to make some sense of today’s mass and social media.
A TV anchor and newspaper and radio editors talked with the group, but not until after Rev. Dwain Lee led everyone in a pledge of civility. That pledge was probably a good idea, given both today’s times and the topic: “I DON’T BELIEVE THE NEWS MEDIA! Why a free and credible press is a cornerstone of democracy.” The event was one in a series of Community Conversations the east Louisville church has been hosting.
The noteworthy presenters were moderator Mark Hebert, a Springdale church member and former investigative and political reporter for WHAS-TV, and panelists:
- Renee Murphy, news anchor for WHAS-TV;
- Stephen George, executive editor of Louisville Public Media; and
- Joel Christopher, executive editor of The Courier-Journal.
A lot of the questions and discussion centered on anonymous sources in news reports: how media handles use of unnamed sources and why it uses unidentified people in stories, as well as how readers, viewers, and listeners should evaluate accounts based on anonymous sources.
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Murphy described how her reporting involved decisions of sources not willing to be quoted, and of when to release information that had not been officially confirmed. One questioner asked whether media ever helped out in police investigations—Christopher said emphatically that the media should not be an arm of law enforcement.
Bevin and Trump
George described the local public radio response to Matt Bevin’s surprise election to the governorship: They interviewed Bevin voters in Jackson County, which stood to lose from Bevin’s promise to end Kentucky’s exchange that instituted Obamacare. George said they acknowledged their vote might not be in their immediate health coverage self-interest, but that overall Bevin’s values matched theirs.
Another theme of the evening involved leaders, especially Gov. Bevin and President Trump, shunning contacts with traditional media in favor of going directly their supporters through social media. Christopher strongly defended C-J reporter Tom Loftus against social media attacks from Gov. Bevin.
Responding to questions about the C-J’s editorial page, Christoper described it as a work in progress, and invited comments on its format, especially the rare use of editorials written by newspaper staff.
Panelists and audience tended to agree on four top sources for credible national news: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and National Public Radio.
The panel urged people to be smart and critical consumers of news, but didn’t seem to have much to say on how that might happen.
Maybe the answer was in the room Sunday night, where everyone obeyed Rev. Lee’s opening call-and-response to treat each other with dignity and respect.