Guest Opinion: A free, fair press is essential to democracy — especially in small towns |

Guest Opinion: A free, fair press is essential to democracy — especially in small towns

Walter Isaacson, Aspen Institute

It has been said that in the age of the internet, we must become our own editors. We must learn how to question, challenge and analyze all the information bombarding us daily.

In Colorado’s mountain communities, however, we are fortunate. We still have local resources providing that filter.

Keeping up with the local news is the best way to understand the people living in the two dozen or so communities that Colorado Mountain College serves — and the needs of the businesses, governments and nonprofits operating here. In the same publication, readers see what matters to their neighbors, are introduced to fascinating feature stories and keep tabs on regional, national and global news.

And this doesn’t even touch on the radio and public access TV stations across CMC’s expansive nine-county, 12,000-square-mile service area.

Higher education and the media serve parallel values. Both honor integrity, truth, accuracy, inclusivity and the examination of ideas from myriad angles. These values are the bedrock upon which our democracy stands, and it is crucial that we both vigorously pursue these values for all.

A democracy depends on a free and fair media, keeping public officials accountable and the electorate informed. Without access to real news, with real facts and real sources, how can we make good choices in how we are governed, or thoughtfully and respectfully engage with others? How can we even know what is true?

Local news-gathering organizations are essential to this healthy dynamic. In our rural resort communities, many of us know our local editor, news director or reporters. We are closer to the sources of news, and have a good barometer on whether a story is fair, or true. We probably have met the person featured on page one, and we expect the writer to get the story right.

With national and international scandals breaking nearly daily about manufactured news designed to manipulate the reader, it is more important than ever that we remain — or teach ourselves to be — informed consumers of information.

Furthermore, in the face of shrinking page counts and drastic personnel cuts to newsrooms, we need to ensure that these essential local media organizations survive. Another recent wave of layoffs at the Denver Post brings that home, hard.

How, exactly, might we keep the Fourth Estate — and our very democracy — alive?

One, get to know your local news outlets. Read or listen to the stories they tell. Two, support them and the businesses that support them. They are employing the journalists who have made it their lives’ calling to keep you informed.

Finally, become an educated consumer of news. Sharpen your critical thinking skills. If you read or hear something, consider the source. Who says this is true? What is their motive? Do you know the difference between a local news article, wire service story, paid advertisement or opinion piece?

Does a news story consider different points of view? Be wary of false equivalencies; if two people are quoted, and one has years of experience in their field and the other sounds like their “facts” came from Uncle Jimmy, are their viewpoints given the same weight? If so, proceed with caution.

Students in classes across CMC’s 11 campuses, and online, are learning these critical thinking skills — particularly students in the Isaacson School for Communication, Arts and Media. They are learning to recognize and seek out original, informed sources. They are developing the filters and synthesizing strategies for the avalanche of information, opinion, tweets, likes and shares constantly flying at them. In their own storytelling projects, they are held to the highest standards of ethics, sourcing and validation.

So to honor Colorado Journalism Week, support local news outlets. They are helping to keep us informed, our freedoms intact, and our discussions and debates with each other honest and respectful.

Dr. Carrie Besnette Hauser (@CMCPresident) is president and CEO of Colorado Mountain College. Walter Isaacson (@WalterIsaacson) is an author, professor of history at Tulane, CEO of the Aspen Institute and former CEO of CNN and editor of Time magazine.

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