News: Media Fairness Conference 2012

Sorting Out Media, Politics, and Citizenship

Students at Colorado Christian University were able to question prominent journalists, bloggers, and columnists as part of a March 2 conference on "Media Fairness and the 2012 Campaign." Centennial Institute, CCU's think tank, invited locally and nationally-known luminaries to campus in order to discuss issues in today' media.

Voters will need reliable reporting on candidates and issues as the presidential race unfolds, noted John Andrews, director of Centennial Institute. Yet, as Eli Stokols of Fox 31 News quipped, many people regard substantive political news as the "lima beans" of the daily media buffet. Tackling that paradox, the conference offered four panels on various aspects of political coverage, culminating in a keynote luncheon with nationally-syndicated columnist, Cal Thomas.

The conference tied into CCU's News in the 21st Century class, which is a required class examining persuasion and media techniques.

Students and attendees watched as panelists with diverging opinions discussed issues such as bias, spin, economic literacy, and survival skills. By commenting on the news, rather than reporting it, journalists gave students keys to understand how news works and what gets reported.

Insiders, such as local AP reporter Kristin Wyatt, stressed the need to understand that "broadcasts are designed to gain the most eyeballs." Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute's Carol Hedges agreed, insisting that as long as candidates, the media, and the public are more concerned about "catchphrases than conversation," society will continue to suffer from economic and political illiteracy.

Students wrestled with how to sort out truth in the midst of spin and sound bites as John Andrews engaged the audience directly. Part of the strategy insisted Kelly Maher, a local video blogger, is to "take time to seek out the opinion which is opposite your own."

Megan Brophy, a junior at CCU and participant in the News in the 21st Century class, agreed: "A well-informed public is necessary to a well-functioning republic."

Brophy was also on hand for the keynote speech provided by Cal Thomas. Mixing folksy humor, his personal story, and incisive commentary, Thomas stressed how the media goes after conflicts rather than solutions--because solutions do not provide ratings. His religious beliefs provided encouragement to students like Megan. "Christians can and should work to consume media intelligently and also work to have their voices heard in the media," she said. "This conference reinforced that belief."

For students like Megan, who have studied persuasive theory in class for the past two months, the conference provided concrete examples. "Communication theory isn't my strong suit, but this conference gives the class a lot more relevance and makes the theories easier to learn."

Such a class also fits with CCU's strategic objectives, equipping students to impact culture for the good. Or, as Cal Thomas reminded students, "Democracy is not the natural state of humanity. We must renew it with each generation."

The four conference panels were taped by C-SPAN for airing on national television during the week of March 12.