We the People: How the Media Can Help Heal Political Polarization

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo.–KOLR 10 news is digging deeper this month with a new, courageous conversation about the political polarization in America. 

On Wednesday, we explored the media’s role in the division we see in America, and why confusion between traditional news and opinion news sources is part of the problem.    Experts will tell you that social media also plays a role by giving people a platform to spread stories that may or may not be true. 

Now, we want to look for solutions in our own industry, to see how the media’s role moving forward may help bring more civility back to our nation

“When cable tv, 24-hour news came into existence.  And the time for reflection and to really make sure things were correct changed” says former KOLR10 anchor Mike Peters.

When Mike Peters was the evening anchor at KOLR10 in the 1980’s, the news business and how it was perceived was very different.  The evening news was appointment television, and journalists often had more time to prepare the stories they presented.
“We see how wars are covered now, you have people live on the battlefield.  Well a story that happened in Vietnam was shot on film, and it was then either shipped to Hong Kong or New York, it was at least a day before that story made the air.  And so there was time to reflect on what went on” says Peters.

While there’s no doubt journalism moves at a faster pace today, many organizations, like KOLR10, still adhere to the bedrock principles of quality journalism, to seek the truth and report it as fully as possible.  So what’s the best way for journalism to move forward in terms of America’s political polarization?

“What we do is give the news and information.  What we don’t do is give our opinion.  And that would distinguish us from the national media that seems to be doing that all the time,” says KOLR10 news director Chuck Maulden.

KOLR 10 news director Chuck Maulden, an almost 40 year veteran of broadcast journalism, says news organizations need to decide what their values are and portray them to the public.   Maulden says defined values will help legitimate news sources defend against attacks, unlike opinion-based news platforms.

“Unless you have that bullwork of values, you’re not going to help the public wade through this polarization,” says Maulden.

“We have to help the public understand why outstanding local journalism is essential to their daily lives” says RTDNA executive director Dan Shelley. 

Dan Shelley, a former radio reporter in Springfield who now heads the Radio, Television, Digital News Association, says quality journalism will play a vital role in restoring civil discourse in America.   He says many news organizations have doubled down on reporting responsible information, striving to give news consumers the best attainable version of the truth.  

“I think people have to check the veracity of the information they are getting.  They can’t just take everything at face value.  Too many people find it too convenient to get their news, or what they believe to be news, only from sources with which they already share a particular point of view or ideology.  They have to break out of that box and they have to seek out news and information from as many different sources as they can possibly check” says Shelley.  

Advice to help our country move forward, that still resonates with a former journalist who shares some advice of his own.
“I hope that people stay informed.  I’ve told people this for years.  You can’t just rely on television news.  You’ve got to look at many things to get a good picture of what goes on.  That’s print, that’s internet.  And having conversations with people you know and trust.  And don’t always have those conversations with people that agree with you.  Listen to people who will give you a good argument.  You’ll learn from those conversations and you’ll surprise yourself, you may find your point of view changing” says Peters.

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