Recap: Racine, WI Forum

Knight Commission on Trust, Media and Democracy
Racine, WI, May 30-31, 2018

Richard Adler

The Knight Commission on Trust, Media and Democracy held its fourth regular meeting at the Wingspread Conference Center in Racine, WI, on Wednesday and Thursday, May 30 and 31, 2018.  The session on Thursday afternoon began with a review of the drafts of Chapters 2 and 3 of the Commission report, followed by a presentation from Daryl Holliday Co-Founder of City Bureau in Chicago. Friday morning began with a presentation from Robin Vos, Speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly. To view Speaker Vos’s full statement, please visit.  

Wednesday, May 30

Daryl Holliday, News Lab Director, City Bureau, Chicago
            A 2017 survey of Chicago residents found that the city’s minority residents were more likely than white residents to believe that news “stories about their neighborhoods were too negative,” and that news reports about their neighborhoods tended to “quote the wrong persons.”  To counteract the sense of alienation and frustration about the lack of meaningful news, City Bureau’s News Lab is a “public journalism school” that has been training (and paying) residents to become “monitorial citizens” who attend and document public meetings in their communities that are increasingly underreported by local media.  (The 300 “documentors” trained to date range in age from 17 to 79, and represent a range of ethnic backgrounds.)  By teaching residents to “become knowledgeable information gatherers,” the News Lab hopes to create a “new contract between journalism and the public [that] will frame journalism as an act of citizenship rather than an entity for and separate from citizens.”

Thursday, May 31

Robin Vos, Speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly
He was born in Racine, has been active in politics since age 10.  joined the legislature in 2004 (was “far right”), became speaker of the Assembly in 2014.  He found that the media favored Democrats, so he became the first in the Assembly to make use of Twitter to get his message out directly.

He believes that the media re responsible for electing Donald Trump.  Media should be fair and balanced, based in fact – but no Americans believe that this is true.  He cited several examples of media bias in Wisconsin

Media “has squandered away its opportunity to be objective. News has become unbelievable, promoting people to turn to their friends on Facebook for news. Good news isn’t news anymore – when good things happen, they are rarely reported, while what is reported is often sensationalized:  As a member of the National Conference of State Legislators, he gets money for traveling to meetings. Press reported that “legislators were getting “money from outside groups for travel,” but much of it was from non-partisan sources.

Media no longer feel obligated to cover both sides of stories:  he believes that climate change is happening, but doesn’t know why.  But his doubts are seldom reflected in the news.

There is a prejudice among journalists against rural areas. For example, one said, “I could never live in a rural area, some dumb-ass city like Wisconsin.”

Recommendations:

  1. Challenge individuals to become champions for free speech. College campuses need to be more willing to allow speakers with unpopular views to speak.
  2. Bring people together to talk about solutions. Reaching compromise “isn’t sexy,” but it is critical for good government.
  3. Journalists need to do a better job of reporting fairly and responsibly. Breaking stories prematurely can break the system’s ability to find compromise.

Q. Should government provide funding for public media?

A. He is a “huge advocate” of the Wisconsin Eye Network (C-SPAN for WI), has provided funds to pay for their cameras. But is skeptical of government funding media: it is likely to become like Pravda or worse.

Q. What else can we do to solve problems of media?

A. Not more fact checking. Newspapers should not be responsible for deciding who is credible, who is not. Media are drawn to scandals, not the ordinary workings of government. He doesn’t know how to fix the bias toward sensationalism. He worries about the ignorance of the public: 3/4th of voters can’t name the three branches of government. The state does now require all students to past a civics test in order to graduate from high school.