Who's Mediating? News Needs Civic Sensibility

The contentious tone of public discourse in the months leading up to the November U.S. presidential election has been widely acknowledged, as well as the public's desire for more 'news' and less 'opinion.' But another troubling aspect of news has been the tendency to personalize news stories -- characterizing presidents, for example, as lone actors rather than representatives of a citizenry of 320 million people. 

Headlines in today's New York Times display this personalizing tendency: "Trump to Authorize Wall And Curtail Immigration"; and "President Breathes Life Into Pipelines Thwarted Under Obama." Eleven paragraphs later (on an inside page), the article discloses that "Congress would need to approve any new funding necessary to build the wall..."

Civics-oriented journalism would contextualize this news story in terms that clarify democratic processes, which are constitutionally designed to limit the power of any one branch of government. A reference in paragraph 2 to the required Congressional approval, for example, would have presented a more accurate, realistic view of our constitutional checks and balances, and would give the entire article a more reasonable tone.

While it's absolutely critical for the public to be warned of potential abuses of power, it's even more important to ensure that daily news empowers citizens with a rational understanding of the complex processes of representative government. (These processes often involve extensive consultation, analysis, debate and consensus.)

 We look forward to the news media playing a more active role in this vital aspect of life-long public education.