Marquette, Mich.--With the recent election, students in this semester’s “Politics and the Press” class at Northern Michigan University have had plenty of opportunities to examine how the media covers the political process. They became well-acquainted with political fact-checking sites and studied related material in their textbook, Unspun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation. They have also reviewed research on the strengths and weaknesses of the process from non-partisan sources including the Pew Research Center, Annenberg Public Policy Center and Kaiser Foundation.
“The students had a chance to experience the media directly via a service learning project that we do with WNMU-TV and the American Association of University Women,” said Charles Ganzert, a communication and performance studies professor who teaches the course with Steve Nelson, political science and public administration professor. “The class was divided into groups that produced issue-based news features for WNMU’s Public Eye News program. Each segment included an interview with a local resource person and ended with a get-out-the-vote message.” (Pictured during one taping of the “Poli-Sci on the Fly” segment is student Sasha James interviewing Peter Dishnow from the Marquette county clerk’s office).
The project sparked an interest in broadcasting for political science major Rose Frankowski, who has since become involved with Public Eye News. Frankowski said she has been enlightened on how the relationship between the media and politics has been transformed since the advent of television.
“A number of historical events took the media from the role of an informer to more of a watchdog, ready to strike on any government mistake,” she said. “In my lifetime, the role of the media has always been toward accountability in governance. I have never experienced the media operating as an ally of the government, solely against it. This surprised me because it made me wonder how the general public’s trust and knowledge of politics could change if the media and the government worked together to educate truthfully and not only for corporate interests.
“The weakness of the system is that the media can work as an agenda-setter or gatekeeper of information. The issues the media focuses on receive the most attention and are viewed by the public as most important. Sometimes this is not true and the issues the media keeps silent on are those that could most affect the populous. The media have huge control over the way we think because they control what information we receive and what side that information supports or is critical of. There are not many ways to hold the media accountable for everything they say. Individuals are forced to bridge the gap—something they do not always do.”
Frankowski said verifying candidate claims through sites such as factcheck.org and politifact.com is increasingly important with information bombarding people from all directions and from a variety of sources. She also makes a personal effort to balance media bias. For example, Frankowski said she watches coverage on television networks viewed as liberal—ABC and NBC—and then switches over to FOX News for the conservative viewpoint.