Together We Have the Power to Fix Broken News and Strengthen Participatory Democracy

Modern news media suffers from a credibility crisis and the integrity of public information is at stake. Americans have been increasingly tuning out since the golden age of journalism, which causes incremental cutbacks in funding and producers scrambling to boost ratings as newsroom budgets slowly decline. The Internet created many additional publications that began dipping into a limited pool of advertising revenue and complicated the matter.

Cable news networks and the Internet introduced the 24-hour news cycle and a high-pressured race to be the first to break the story. Emphasis on winning prestige and advertising dollars creates an environment that compels reporters and producers to take shortcuts. Instead of producing original journalism, they routinely rely on the work of other organizations and create derivative stories in the rush to print. Reports are frequently sensationalized or embellished, not always properly verified, or slanted toward fear-mongering designed to keep viewers afraid and tuned in to watch.

The traditional news model’s approach to credibility also creates two other flaws that lead to one major problem which may hint to why audiences are increasingly disengaged. The right to press is intended to educate the public and serve as arbiters of productive discourse. Relying on official sources and reporting information without context or interpretation creates bias toward the establishment. Facts do not speak for themselves and leaving the task of analysis to hard-working families with no time to spare does little to educate or cultivate informed public discourse.

Practices that appeal to the lowest common denominator present news as entertainment for the sake of profit. Under this scenario, information is subjected to the whims of advertisers and provides narrowly-focused coverage that leaves nearly every American without media representation and an accurate view of current affairs.

“Relying on official sources and reporting information to the public without context or interpretation creates bias toward the establishment. Facts do not speak for themselves and leaving the task of analysis to hard-working families with little time to spare does little to educate or cultivate productive and informed discourse.”

civicobserver.com is a venture in journalism that seeks to educate Minnesota in public life by providing content geared toward government matters, media literacy, and cultivating understanding between divided communities. Addressing issues detailed with the mainstream media’s standard practices, our team aims to develop a news model where content is largely driven, and funded, by the communities it serves.

Mike Ananny and Daniel Kreiss, in a peer-reviewed article called A New Contract for the Press: Copyright, Public Domain Journalism, and Self-Governance in a Digital Age, define five journalistic practices for community-oriented news agencies that “help support more inclusive, diverse, and quality public communication,” and these are the principles that guide the Civic Observer toward developing a sustainable model of credible community-supported journalism.

“These practices are designed to create a more credible and publicly accountable journalism that can better hold other powerful institutions, ranging from the state to private corporations, accountable for their actions.”

  1. Transparency. “The processes, ideals, and principles are open to public scrutiny before, during, and after news content is created.”

  2. Accountability. “Broadly conceptualized by McQuail as the ‘purposes and also the consequences of publication. It refers to all ways in which public communication is ‘accounted for,’ by its originators, its recipients and those affected by it.’ Accountability may be secured by laws and regulations, markets, publics, or professionals. It is insufficient simply to make visible the processes and principles that guide journalism; citizens need a means to ensure that journalists fulfill their mission of serving the public.”

  3. Dialog. “The press maintains and enhances the conversation of the culture, becomes one voice in that conversation, amplifies that conversation outward, and helps it along by bringing forward information that the conversation itself demands.”

  4. Reliability. “Reporting has a mature subjectivity, tempered by encounters with, and regard for, the views of significant others in the profession, and subjectivity aged by encounters with, and regard for, the facts of the world.”

  5. Collaboration. “For example, readers may suggest topics to be reported or alternative sources that might be cited. Audiences might work with journalists by doing complementary research and co-authoring stories,” and “helping citizens to acquire the skills, attitudes, and relationships necessary to become a more active participant in – and teachers of – public life.”

civicobserver.com is founded by three part-time journalists working to build the best place for civics-related news in Minnesota. Benjamin, J.D., and Mark are incrementally building the website and currently providing content for free. As broke college students attending Minneapolis Community & Technical College that also contribute to CityCollegeNews, the stark reality of needing money to keep housing and eat food distracts from these efforts. We would love nothing more than to create a publication that provides the resources to pay for full-time journalists, and more, for many years to come.

Help us strengthen participatory democracy by following our social media accounts, sharing posts and facilitating productive discourse, providing feedback and story tips to our editors and contributors, or making a financial contribution of any size, so that civicobserver.com can continue producing civics content for the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota.

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