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SPRINGFIELD – Students from 10 different southwest Missouri high schools attended a “People and the Press” session as part of the annual Agriculture Education Day held Thursday, Sept. 9 at University of Missouri’s Southwest Research Center in Mt. Vernon.
During the field day, nearly 1,600 students from 40 schools rotated among the speakers at the research center every 20 minutes and heard presentations from University of Missouri Extension specialists on topics like using computers on the farm, beekeeping, dairy promotion, preserving foods, bio-security, grazing wedges and tomato grafting.
Nearly 270 students from Mt. Vernon, Branson, Exeter, Chadwick, Monett, Seymour, Dadeville, Eldorado Springs, and Washburn had an opportunity to deliberate about the important role the ethical news coverage in a “Public and the Press” session led by David Burton, civic communication specialist, University of Missouri Extension.
“The future of America demands that we have responsible and ethical media outlets and reporters. One way that can be achieved is through an improved understanding of media ethics by all Americans,” said Burton.
Student’s opinions on the news media was surveyed and they received a copy of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics (first written in 1926) used by professional journalists.
On the survey, students were asked questions from the national materials and could answer with “strongly agree,” “somewhat agree,” “strongly disagree,” “somewhat disagree,” and “not sure.”
Several of the questions drew 80 percent agreement from the students:
• Irresponsible journalists are eroding public trust in the news media: 81% agreed.
• Broadcast journalists are more interested in improving their ratings than in serving the public: 83% agreed.
• The news media is more concerned with profits than with public service: 80% agreed.
• Citizens should have more influence in setting standards for the news media: 78% agreed.
• Journalists should develop a set of standards for news coverage that they would all be expected to follow: 78% agreed
• Journalists should be licensed as other professionals, such as doctors and teachers are: 63% agreed.
• We should increase government funding for public broadcasting: 59% disagreed.
• The federal government should more strictly regulate the media industry: 41% disagreed, 15% were not sure.
• Local media should initiate community discussions of civic issues in their communities: 68% agreed.
• We should hold journalists to a set of tough standards EVEN IF that impinges on freedom of the press: 43% disagreed and 17% were not sure.
“There was a lot of agreement among the student surveys, and discussion demonstrated and some of them have thought about these issues,” said Burton. “Still, the answers point out that a lot of work needs to be done on explaining the existence of a journalists code of ethics, what that means, and how freedom of the press impacts them personally.”
Learning materials used in this session were funded by a national grant from the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation.
“Although we didn’t have time for a full-blown issue forum, we were able to talk about steps that can be taken locally to restore citizens’ trust in news reporting and media coverage,” said Burton.
Regional or community “public and the press” programs outside of Springfield are available to media outlets or organizations that want to partner on this program.
For example, high school journalism teachers might want to host a forum in their classroom in partnership with MU Extension and a local journalist or newspaper editor. Students would receive books dealing with the subject of restoring the public’s trust in the news media.
For information on bringing this program to your community or school, contact the Greene County Extension Center at (417) Tel: (417) 881-8909 or e-mail David Burton at email@example.com.