What Should News Be?
On the evening of March 2, five esteemed journalists and publishers gathered in the auditorium at Central Presbyterian Church in Summit to discuss the interesting question, For “We the People,” What Should News Be? About 100 people attended the forum, which was co-presented by Interweave and NJ Arts News to explore journalism’s civic responsibilities. The panelists shared stories about their careers as well as an array of convictions about what news should and could be.
Jim Schachter, WNYC Radio Vice President for News, first became interested in journalism during a high school letter-writing campaign. Terry Baker, Al Jazeera America Executive Vice President of Presentation, was drawn to journalism by watching the broadcast journalist Harry Reasoner; and Mary Alice Williams, NJTV News Anchor, by watching the Nuremberg Trials. The most gratifying part of their work? For Jim Schachter, the power of original reporting; for Star Ledger Columnist Mark Di Ionno, telling the story of the ordinary, struggling person.
New Jersey Monthly Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Kate Tomlinson identified the essential purpose of news as informing people about issues that have long-term impact and “what we will care about 50 years from now.” For Mary Alice Williams, news helps us decide about policy issues; she also cautioned that news should educate people by sharing more information, rather than telling them what to think.
In response to a question about the most urgent challenges facing all of us, Jim Schachter said he would like to see us grappling with the legacy of racism more effectively. I couldn’t agree more. The topic often seems to be evaded altogether because it is discomfiting for many people. Reporters unaware of layers of diversity can compromise their objectivity. If the News were to commit to addressing such nearly-taboo issues more directly, it could stimulate more energy toward dialogue and problem-solving. I also believe that a fair representation of more diverse groups and voices would lead toward a culture of greater acceptance and equality.
Imagine a society where citizens are well-informed about government and politics; and news organizations invite honest dialogue about education, race, and religion, as well as other pressing issues. Imagine a healthier, well educated, tolerant, voting body of citizens that dissuades news networks from frivolous publications and demands content that probes and addresses major societal issues. Imagine a news network that gives a voice to all the disenfranchised and helps people decide and act as problem-solvers in order to resolve the issues that matter.
For me, that’s what News should be.
Kei-Sygh Thomas is a sophomore at Drew University studying economics and communications. She is an NJ Arts News intern for the spring semester.