Without media literacy, is there hope for the media?

Much has been said in recent weeks about how the news media will need to transform itself if it is to keep up with continued deception from a President Trump, and with the proliferation of so-called fake news.

I think it's true that journalists have an almost impossible-to-navigate obstacle course in front of them for the years ahead. Covering hard news, calling out lies and omissions while maintaining their access, not becoming the story, not becoming desensitized, and just generally being on top of the actions of an administration unconstrained by any reasonable standards of integrity or transparency will be all-consuming.

But perhaps the harder task falls to an American public whose media literacy has apparently wasted away under the relentless influence of social media, clickbait journalism, passive entertainment, substandard education, and general civic apathy. It may not matter how well-sourced, researched and fact-checked a news article might be if the average reader doesn't know how to distinguish it from a speculative, misleading or just plain fabricated piece published by someone trying to get rich quick or advance an agenda. It probably doesn't matter how much time and money a media organization invests in being seen as credible if there is no widely accepted and respected standard for credibility.

If the public continues to give our clicks, attention and dollars to the most salacious and distracting stories over ones that cover the complex substance of politics and governance, there may be little hope for a strong fourth estate.

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Elements of an effective editorial

Lighthouse stairsIn October I concluded my time as a member of the Palladium-Item's community editorial advisory board, which I joined about two years ago.  I enjoyed the experience and while (as expected) I didn't always agree with the views published by the paper, I felt like I was able to bring a perspective and approach that helped shape the overall conversation.  There have been few other places in my day-to-day life since college where people regularly gather in a room to vehemently but respectfully talk (okay, and sometimes shout) in depth and in person about current events and important issues facing the city.

I was already a fairly close reader of the viewpoints page in the Pal-Item and other publications, but being on the editorial board inspired and required even closer attention to what topics local writers were submitting letters and columns about, and how they went about presenting their views.  As a result, I've put together a list of elements that I found to be present in the most effective and engaging editorials I've read:

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The Palladium-Item Paywall

At the beginning of September, the Palladium-Item newspaper in Richmond implemented what many other newspapers have in recent years, a "paywall" that requires users to have a paid subscription when viewing more than a certain number of articles per month on the paper's website.  The paper launched some new features with their digital subscription, including a tablet version and new mobile versions.

I think this approach is a great thing, and is probably something they should have done a long time ago.  Here's why.

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I'm joining the Pal-Item Editorial Board

Postcard-likeI'm pleased to note that I'm joining the Palladium-Item's community editorial advisory board.  This comes after a number of conversations with the paper's staff about the role of the editorial page and its advisory board in prompting and shaping community dialog; I'm excited that I will get to contribute to those efforts in this new way.

The board is a volunteer group of community members who meet regularly with the paper's editorial staff to discuss issues facing our area, and to help ensure that the viewpoints expressed by the paper are the result of careful consideration and broad consultation.  In the end, it's the Palladium-Item staff (and not the advisory board members) who craft the resulting columns, but Dale McConnaughay and others responsible for that task rely on the input received (and strong disagreements aired) through the board's private conversations.  They also regularly invite community leaders to meet with the board for updates and discussion about projects underway.

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Tales of two newspapers: NYT and P-I

Tales of my recent encounters with two newspapers of note, The New York Times and The Palladium-Item:

The New York Times

NYC: New York Times BuildingAccording to The New York Times website, home delivery of their Sunday edition is available where I live in Richmond, Indiana.  Earlier this year I tried to take them up on that, buying a subscription online and eagerly awaiting that first Sunday morning when I would get to indulge in a paper-reading experience long enough to get me through at least one cup of coffee.

But that first Sunday, the paper didn't show up.  "Oh, yeah, that's probably just some issue getting you in the circulation system," the phone rep said when I called.  "We'll get it to you next week."

Week two, no paper.  "Sorry about that, don't know what happened there.  Hold on while I call the distribution center."  They concluded it was just another circulation issue, and assured me it had been straightened out for sure this time.

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Why I'm canceling my print newspaper subscription

Damon on FireI believe the time has finally come to cancel my subscription to the local newspaper, The Palladium-Item.  It's a decision I've wrestled with even as I've supported and found excitement in the possibilities for renewal at the paper (and blogged about some of that thinking here, here, here, and here), and it's not something I'll do lightly.

I've gone from subscribing to the paper seven days a week, to just the Friday/Saturday/Sunday package, to just the Sunday edition.  Here's why I'm going to finally let go of receiving a print edition altogether:

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Recommendations for the Local Newspaper

Jason Truitt at the Richmond Palladium-Item has requested input from the paper's readers on its current strategic planning conversations, saying "we want to do a better news operation in 2010."  As I've done in the past, I'd like to try to answer some of Jason's specific questions here, and while they're somewhat particular to our community, my recommendations might be useful for other papers too:

1. Watchdog journalism involves writing stories that hold public officials accountable for their actions or stories that help to right wrongs in the community, for example. In what ways could we improve in this area?

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