On June 25, more than 30 Columbia and Boone County residents gathered at the Columbia Public Library to talk about the news media and what the word “media” means to them. This “Watching the Watchdog” forum was the first of three sponsored by the Missourian, the Columbia Human Rights Commission and the Reynolds Journalism Institute at MU.
The idea is simple. In a world where we can meet our informational needs in increasingly different and complex ways, the media — including your newspaper — must develop a better understanding of what its audience, and prospective audience, wants. We’ll share what we learn from these forums and our reporting with media experts at the upcoming centennial celebration at the Missouri School of Journalism.
After the first session, Missourian reporters scheduled interviews with several the participants. Here are their thoughts.
62-year-old blogger values editorial oversight
When I asked David Sapp why he began blogging, at first he said he didn’t think he was a blogger at all. Then we talked about the posts he writes for MyMissourian.com and agreed that the 62-year-old retired engineer is, in fact, a blogger.
Fifty-four percent of bloggers are younger than 30, according to a 2006 Pew study, but that means 46 percent of the blogging world was born before cell phones were invented. As part of that group, Sapp approached the new medium carefully.
“Dipping my toe in and carefully checking them out,” is how he describes his evolution into a blog reader and contributor.
Sapp keeps current on politics and genealogy, his hobby, by reading blogs. He began to contribute to the Missourian’s blog after being encouraged by its founder, MU journalism professor Clyde Bentley.
Sapp says it’s easier to put his trust in blogs that are part of established news organizations that can make qualified decisions on the value of each post. Ultimately, he has to have confidence that a competent editorial staff is in charge of a blog.
Sapp’s experience writing for MyMissourian.com has been positive. He’s even overheard people commenting about enjoying his posts. But Sapp has questions about how much of the community is using the blog.
“I still have mixed feelings in terms of what it’s accomplishing, but what I definitely like is that the Missourian is experimenting with these methods,” Sapp said. “If more people would use it, it could become a very powerful thing.”
— Sara Shahriari
Praise for the printed word
Rose Corgan, 78, “grew up on the Missourian.” There was no TV. Reading the papers was part of everyday life for Corgan, her parents and her five brothers and sisters.
Newspapers connect Corgan to the world. When a brother was a prisoner of war in Germany, her father went to Heibel’s pharmacy and bought the Sunday editions of the Kansas City Star and St. Louis Post-Dispatch. With relatives around Boone County, papers from Hartsburg and Ashland were passed around the family. Reading entertained everyone, including the kids.
Corgan and her husband, Jim, moved away in 1950 to make their own lives. They returned to Columbia 40 years later to retire.
In their little section of their neighborhood, they’re the only ones who get the Missourian. Only a few neighbors even get the Columbia Daily Tribune, she said.
Times have changed. But for Corgan, nothing about the news — or where she gets it — has.
“Still the same Missourian, still the same Trib,” she said.
She reads everything in the newspaper, even skims the classified ads. She’s not looking to buy a car, but she thinks the selling prices can tell a lot about the economy. Though she spends hours reading every word, she’d never think of reading the news on a computer.
“I like to read the printed word,” she said. “I can’t explain that. I guess it’s what I’ve always done.”
— Jackie Borchardt
Former teacher has faith in objectivity
Daryl Douglas seems unperturbed by what could have happened during the Watching the Watchdog study group session on June 25.
“I’ve been to these (study circles) before, and it is often a cumbersome process,” said Douglas, a former English teacher at Hickman High School. He has recently accepted a job offer in Taiwan but plans to move to Kansas City, his hometown, so he can be closer to his ill mother.
“But I do believe in the process. And in some situations like tonight I’m thinking, ‘Alright, I’m not going to say anything, because if I say something it could spark a verbal exchange.’”
But speak he did. Wearing a bright yellow retro-70s T-shirt with orange splashes, Douglas said he felt he was “attacked” after his remarks.
“I was saying that I didn’t feel the media was all about trying to propagandize, and everyone but one thought that it was,” Douglas said. “So after getting rapped on the knuckle once, I chose not to engage.”
Douglas likes to find positives and considers himself a reasonably educated person.
“I can read something and decide for myself whether I want to believe it or not. So I don’t feel like I am being manipulated. Maybe I am, but then I am still happy there. Let me believe what I want to believe.”
— Zul-Fakhri Maidy
“Silly” made-for-media stories irk teen
Samantha Hentschke is a teenager and has a sense of humor — two qualities that influence her news consumption.
Not everything in the news matters to people her age, says the 17-year-old Rock Bridge student. She mostly follows “interesting” stories about animal rights (she’s a vegetarian), the environment (she’s concerned about global warming) and the arts in general (she gets most of what she wants from the Trib).
Hentschke said she is turned off by polarizing political news that focuses on “all bad stuff.”
The Obama flag-pin controversy?
“Silly,” Hentschke said.
Hillary’s “fake” Southern accent?
When Hentschke does watch TV news, it’s “The Colbert Report” or “The Daily Show.”
“I appreciate humor as opposed to superseriousness,” she said. “Stephen Colbert pretends to be super-Republican, and it amuses me so much.”
She especially likes when Colbert shows off his Peabody Award, which he recently won for being “one of electronic media’s sharpest satirists.”
“There’s so much good stuff in the world, and the media doesn’t focus on it as much as it should,” Hentschke said.
— Kristina Sherry
Negative stereotypes all too common
When Khesha Duncan opened a forwarded e-mail sent to her by a fellow Barack Obama supporter, she wasn’t expecting to watch a clip from FOX News in which the bottom read “Outrage Liberals: Stop Picking on Obama’s baby mama!”
She felt livid, distraught, disappointed. Although she never watched much FOX News, she hasn’t watched it since and doesn’t trust or respect the media.
“How am I supposed to feel when the two most prominent African-Americans are treated this way?” she said.
She said she doesn’t feel that she is represented by the media and thinks that African-Americans are negatively portrayed.
Examples such as the portrayal of African-Americans as looters during Hurricane Katrina are what she expects to see every day in the media.
“The media is perpetuating stereotypes by and large because in 2008 the country has not had a meaningful discussion about racism in this country,” she said.
— Sarah Horne
Balanced international coverage lacking
When Mehdi Farhangi returned to his homeland of Iran in May, he couldn’t believe what he saw. Thousands of evergreen trees had been planted along highways and across acres of dry land to beautify and protect the country. Colleges had sprouted up in every town. Literacy was through the roof.
“After 10 years, I saw tremendous change,” the 77-year-old retired MU professor says, but he’d never heard mention of the tree project or the schools in American media. “Why is there no positive coverage of Iran?” Farhangi asked.
Life-affirming acts in foreign countries seem to go unnoticed by American media, he said, and “efforts to be positive are ignored.” Farhangi wishes the media would offer more balanced international coverage of countries such as Iran.
“Good happens in bad parts of the world,” Farhangi said.
Farhangi worries about the domestic consequences of disproportional international news.
“The American public isn’t informed regarding foreign news and policy,” he said.
Farhangi sees the press as a cornerstone of democracy, but he’s concerned that under-informed citizens cannot adequately participate in important discussions, which leaves big choices up to a select few who might not have the best interests of the general population at heart.
“We should get the information to citizens in a timely manner so that the minority won’t be the ones making decisions,” Farhangi said.
— Erin Bernard