Interactive Forum Tests Audience EQ

CivicStory Forum on News and Democracy. Photo by Donna Liu

CivicStory Forum on News and Democracy. Photo by Donna Liu

In a lively exchange with the audience of CivicStory’s forum on “News & Democracy”, panelists and attendees were challenged to calculate their EQ, or “Election Quotient” - that is to say, the total number of people you delegate to government through voting. It turns out, for most New Jerseyans, the total is in the 20s.

“That’s a lot of relationships to manage!” noted the forum moderator and CivicStory founder Susan Haig, “Because the whole object of democracy is that we relate to our representatives and they know us.” All of which set up the key question to the panel of journalists: with democracy being this complicated, is the news media helping citizens manage these relationships?

A sampling of the responses is sobering:

  • “Local news is something we are sorely in need of. It is rare these days to go to school board and town council meetings and find journalists there… You might find some, but that is a gaping hole.” - Paula Saha, currently Director of Communications at the NJ State Bar Association, formerly with NJ Spotlight and a longtime New Jersey reporter.

  • “What we can do is help you know when decisions are being made, what’s being discussed, how much money is being spent, tell you what happened, how to follow up, give you information on voting and local elections.” - Stefanie Murray, Director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University, who noted that her organization is currently mapping the news ecosystem of New Jersey, and finding that of the state’s 565 municipalities, very few have anyone watching local government regularly and independently.

  • “I don’t think there’s a focus on covering every meeting. Newsrooms, especially electronic ones, don’t look at that as financially feasible.” - NJTV correspondent Michael Hill spoke from years of experience in electronic media.

  • In a more solutions-oriented vein, Joseph Lichterman of the Lenfest Institute for Journalism said some reporting might eventually come from citizens themselves: “Citizens are not necessarily going to be able to replace professionally trained journalists, but there are a number of organizations around the country that are holding training programs, that are saying ‘if you’re interested in going to meetings and sharing what you’re seeing there, we’ll train you.’”

Panelists offered differing answers to the many questions that followed, but on one issue they all agreed: That the most urgent issue in society in the next five years is climate change, and that past media coverage has done some harm by spending too much time on climate deniers. “News organizations should do a better job of tying everyday occurrences to climate change” was one piece of advice offered by Lichterman. If the question had allowed for the second most urgent issue, several panelists would have said - income inequality.

Recordings of CivicStory’s News and Democracy panel will be made available in the near future. Subscribe to our newsletter for all the latest information and videos available from CivicStory.

Donna LiuComment