Exemplary Essay on "Words Matter: How Media Can Build Civility or Destroy It"

Microphones photo by Rusty Sheriff

Jana Lockie, a student in Professor Savona Holmes' English course at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho, read and responded to the YES! Magazine article, "Words Matter: How Media Can Build Civility or Destroy It," by Sarah van Gelder and Brooke Jarvis. 

Writing prompt: What role does the media play in directing the political dialogue in this country? What media sources do you rely on for your news?  What are the reasons for your choice—both what you prefer and not?

Read authors Sarah van Gelder and Brooke Jarvis's response to Jana Lockie's essay here.

Balance of Responsibility

by Jana Lockie

People today have much more access to different media sources than ever before. The media definitely has a huge influence on the  political dialogue of today. Whether it’s dialogue that causes more conflict or encourages positive debate on a range of subjects, the media is not alone in its responsibility. After all, the media is not some abstract entity; it’s made up of people with biases and human flaws like the public. The public, including a small number of demented individuals, should be equally accountable for the consequences of their reactions.

The media is going to publish news that will sell newspapers, get you to turn to their station, and click on their site —stories that will grab your attention, which usually means sensationalizing an event or printing the most negative views held by groups or individuals. If we were in a perfect world, where people were raised with the moral character of Gandhi, we would take in all this information—good and bad—and decide what is worth putting energy into. Something without negative consequences. I believe in freedom of speech, but as it states in the YES! Magazine article, “Words Matter: How Media Can Build Civility or Destroy It,” the Conflict Resolution Network also advises journalists of their unique opportunity to “uncover the causes of conflict and discover opportunities for finding common ground. “ All people must be responsible for their actions—written, and physical.

I have chosen to limit my exposure to most media.  I don’t have access to any paid TV sources. I watch just a few local channels that are mostly educational. I don’t receive any newspapers, and just have satellite radio. I pick and choose news reports from the Internet. Often I look further into the article as to where they got the information. I think this probably limits me in making some thoroughly informed choices, but I value being able to choose wisely and being true to my beliefs.

It’s important for people to be informed and aware. Positive and negative information alike are needed for creating discussion, debate, and eventually finding solutions to problems. The media is responsible for creating an environment that is conducive to positive debate, and the public also has a responsibility to respond in a mutually respectful manner. Unfortunately there will be those who feel their ideas are above everyone else’s, and will take to extremes the point they want to make. No matter what the cost.

Jana Lockie

Jana Lockie is currently pursuing her Bachelor's degree in Earth Science at Lewis-Clark State College, in Lewiston, Idaho. Jana is a business owner and proud mother of seven children. In her "spare" time, she listens to Pearl Jam and Brule`& Airo, and dreams of changing the world, one community at a time, with local recycling programs and community produce co-ops.

Sarah van Gelder and Brooke Jarvis's Response:


Dear Jana,

Thanks for your comments and for your commitment to responsibility. Certainly in a democracy, everyone is accountable for their actions; we agree that it's up to the public, as well as the media, to create the civil, productive discussions that will help us solve our society's biggest problems.

But because we live in a democracy, the media has an extra responsibility. Only an informed public can choose representatives, guide policy choices, and hold the powerful to account; it's part of the media's responsibility to make sure that Americans have access to the information they need to do all this, which can be tough when powerful interests have their own narrative they want to promote. The media also sets the tone for our national discourse, and can incite either hate or understanding, either collaborative problem-solving or distracting name-calling.

 Any of us are free under the U.S. Constitution to say almost anything. But we can still hold our media to account and expect language and coverage that will not undermine our society or our democratic process. In fact, we can work to create media that elevate them.

 Those who defend sensationalist coverage often point to ratings as the reason for the excess coverage of celebrities, fashion, scandal, and crime. The higher the ratings, the greater the advertising revenue. But there is more at stake than making money. That's why many countries and communities subsidize public media; it's also why millions of committed people, including citizen journalists, devote their time to finding and sharing the information that will help us build a better society—uncovering actions that some would prefer to keep hidden, as well as elevating the stories of those people who are working creatively to improve their communities and their countries.

 Supporting public, independent, and nonprofit media is perhaps the best way to assure that journalistic ethics have a chance. In that setting, journalists can be expected to rise to the ethical standards we expect from other professionals: Doctors, for example, should not make treatment choices based on which will bring in the most money. Nor should the media choose stories based on advertising opportunities. 

 From climate change to an ongoing employment crisis, our society is facing very serious challenges. We deserve a public discourse focused on working together to solve them, not one that encourages us to hate people with ideas different from ours.

 Sarah van Gelder and Brooke Jarvis wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Sarah is the executive editor and Brooke is the web editor of YES! Magazine.



June 2011 ednews snapshotThe above resources accompany the June 2011 YES! Education Connection Newsletter


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