Media watch politicians, but who watches the media?

Story by Shannon Hunter

“Our audience is the biggest fact checker we have,” said reporter John Daley referring to the role of citizens in journalism.
This was one of many topics discussed during a panel at the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics on Friday, Oct. 28.
The panelists included: Matt Canham, Washington correspondent for the Salt Lake Tribune; John Daley, a reporter for KSL and Deseret News; and Susan Tolchin, a professor at George Mason University.
The importance of reader participation was emphasized throughout the discussion. All three panelists agreed that journalism is different today. The pressure to publish things daily, even hourly, has created a lack of fact checking, thereby increasing the amount of mistakes.
“When you as a reader see a mistake it is your responsibility as a media reader to tell us,” said Canham.
The panelists also talked about the importance of the corrections the readers send in. They also mentioned the effect that mistakes can have on a piece, even when a correction is made. Tolchin confronted the matter of how few people read the corrections, including herself among those who don’t.
Canham said there are different kinds of errors that can be made, not only factual errors. He explained that a mistake can be made in the way a reporter words things in his or her writing and that it can have just as much, if not bigger, of an effect on the piece. According to Canham, this is one of the many ways journalism has changed in this generation.
Canham believes this is an “interesting time to be in the business,” and that the upcoming generation can accomplish the role of journalists.
“It’s the best of times (and) the worst of times,” said Daley when referring to the difficulty in finding jobs while new technology helps reveal more information.
For example, journalists now not only compete with other journalists but also with citizens who can download information or videos from their cell phones to the web and post stories before reporters do. Sarah Vaughn, a member of the audience, considered this an “important issue.”
Tolchin expressed that she’s excited for the current state of the media. She hopes that the future of journalism will correct government issues and keep politicians honest.
Canham said he disagrees with how politics are being reported and that in his reporting he wants to spend his time most effectively and find a way to give his readers both what they need and want.
“It’s like you’re watching coverage for the NFL (and) who’s going to get that touchdown… It’s a big problem,” said Daley, referring to the current trend of reporting about polls and standings instead of proposed policies from the candidates.
Canham agreed, pointing out the importance of the media in elections by influencing what the voters do or don’t know going into the booths. He emphasized that they “are part of this process.”
Laura Qualey, a member of the audience, found the distinction between “reporting relevant things” from irrelevant topics to be the most important issue discussed by the panelists.
When coming to an end, it was clear that all three panelists agreed that while the media needs to keep an eye on politicians citizens need to keep an eye on the media.