Lecture series explores role, impact of media in political life, democracy

By Gabe Farmer and Whitney Jones

Journalism is not only about keeping people up to date with politics or police reports but also about informing and serving its readers as a watchdog and advocate, which was the theme of this semester’s Town and Gown lecture series.

Dr. Michael Chute, professor of journalism and director of the Center for Media, Faith and Culture, said he organized the lectures, which were open to students and the public, to shed some light on the agenda and focus of reliable journalists.

Dr. Tom Cooper, author of “Fast Media/Media Fast,” spoke at the final lecture March 5 about people tapping into their conscience to make decisions for themselves instead of relying on mass media and news analysis.

He suggested fasting for brief periods from any form of media, whether Facebook or Fox News.

“In our education, most if not all of us were encouraged to be independent, individual critical thinkers … yet increasingly and currently when I ask some of my colleagues from many different institutions, ‘Have you ever had an original thought?’ most are hard-pressed to prove to me that the thought is genuinely original,” said Cooper, a professor of visual and media arts at Boston’s Emerson College. “How could you prove thought wasn’t imported intravenously by some medium or another when you were four years old?”

Steve Coffman, executive editor and director of content and audience development at The Jackson Sun, followed Cooper and discussed the role of newspapers that serve smaller communities. He added that newspapers have a responsibility to not just point out problems but also provide solutions for their readership.

In another session Feb. 27, two Christian journalists, a photographer for The Jackson Sun and an award-winning videographer for USA TODAY, spoke about the influence of American journalism.

Aaron Hardin, photographer for The Jackson Sun and Union alumnus, said how most Americans live out Christianity — believing in money and economics instead of acting out Scripture — will not impact their communities.

“What will impact our community is if you believe in Christ and do what he says,” he said.

Hardin said with the influence of journalism, there is also a greater need for responsibility from journalists.

“Our pictures shape what people think of our community,” he said. “What we do has a great impact on what people believe, think and do.”

USA TODAY videographer Garrett Hubbard also spoke on the importance of the media, saying that news organizations show the masses what is happening to other viewers. He added that reporting convinces people to fight for change.

Hubbard used the example of USA TODAY’s reporting on military Humvees that were death traps to soldiers inside.

Soldiers made officials aware of their concerns, he said, but when USA TODAY reported on it, sturdier, mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles were deployed.

“This report led to the lives of about 40,000 soldiers being much safer,” Hubbard said.

The lecture series focused on teaching people to listen to reliable sources of information and analyze the source of the news they consume every day.

“The reason I selected this particular topic was to get at this idea that journalists are somehow monolithic and that we all somehow have biases and … are sort of feeding people a line, which isn’t true,” Chute said. “We’re hoping that this breaks down those barriers, and people start seeing who journalists are and what they’re about. They’re really just about trying to build community and make it a better place.”

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.