BEMIDJI -- The creation and consumption of news isn’t what it used to be. Instead of finding a rolled up wad of paper on the front stoop, readers can log onto the Internet and scroll through a never ending stream of content; instead of plopping down at a set time to watch the evening news, viewers can watch experts debate issues around the clock.
Navigating those changes, and the morphing social attitudes that come with them, is something to which the industry and its followers are still adjusting.
Public radio executive Jon McTaggart spoke Wednesday at Bemidji State about the changing media landscape and how reporters and consumers can find balance in the chaotic news cycle.
“It's widely reported that trust in media is at an all-time low. And as journalists and leaders of news organizations, we have to ask ourselves 'what's our role in that?'" McTaggart said. "We can all be a part of changing that reality; we can commit ourselves to greater curiosity; there's no barrier to that. And we can commit ourselves to valuing facts."
McTaggart is the president and CEO of American Public Media Group, which, among other programs, is the parent company for Minnesota Public Radio. He’s also a Bemidji State alum and serves on the Bemidji State University Foundation Board of Directors.
In addition to his lecture, McTaggart fielded a number of questions from the audience. One question was about how Minnesota Public Radio deals with the subject of climate change. A faculty member at Bemidji State asked what students should know about being an effective leader.
For his own part, though, McTaggart spoke about some of the things news consumers can do to not pigeonhole themselves into narrow mindsets.
Part of the problem, as McTaggart described it, is that new technologies allow people to tune out anything except the news and opinions they want to hear. The implication is that people of different worldviews become even more polarized and distant from each other.
“Seems many of us prefer to consume news from sources that share our point of view,” McTaggart said. “An exploding array of media devices and platforms has made it so easy for us to retreat into our own ideological bubbles.”
McTaggart suggested undertaking three steps. The first is to “commit” oneself to a greater curiosity. That means, he said, trying to think of a question about something you see, hear or read before making a snap judgement on the issue.
McTaggart said the second step is to commit yourself to “media literacy.” That means analyzing the news with questions such as “what facts or voices are missing from this story?"
The third, McTaggart suggested, is to seek out a wide array of news and opinions, trying to understand the other side rather than instantly coming up with a retort.
“In a healthy society, we must be able to have disagreements without harm,” McTaggart said. “So, when we’re using social media, when we’re reacting to someone’s post, lets ask ourselves: ‘Am I trying to understand this, or am I trying to win the argument?’”