By Paula Poindexter, Chair of National News Engagement Day
and 2013-2014 AEJMC President
At the National Press Club in Washington DC on September 23 when we announced plans for the first-ever National News Engagement Day and released the first AEJMC Poll on Public Attitudes Toward the Press, I posed the question: Why National News Engagement Day and why now? I responded by saying: “We cannot continue to sit on the sidelines and do nothing about the public’s declining interest in news.”
And that’s why Tuesday, October 7, 2014 is now part of AEJMC’s storied history. In 46 states, the District of Columbia, and at least seven countries, we did something about the public’s decreasing appetite for news.
NBC Network News Anchor Brian Williams explained in a video message why our goals for National News Engagement Day were “vitally important” and “essential for a healthy democracy.” In honor of National News Engagement Day, The New York Times made its “NYT Now” mobile app free to everyone for one week beginning October 7. The governors of New Hampshire and Louisiana and the mayor of New Orleans proclaimed October 7 National News Engagement Day.
Journalism organizations, including SPJ, ASNE, RTDNA, and the American Copy Editors Society, endorsed National News Engagement Day. Broadcast journalists across Gannett’s 48 U.S. TV stations used National News Engagement Day to kick off their month-long “Social Media Tuesday initiative” to enhance social media use to engage their audiences and make news a “true conversation.” And the board of directors of JEA, the largest professional organization for scholastic media advisers and journalism teachers, unanimously supported this day set aside to celebrate engaging with news.
Over two dozen news stories and interviews about National News Engagement Day were published or broadcast. And NNED activities were shared using Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Facebook. And, perhaps, more than any other day in history, engagement with news was talked about, tweeted about, and celebrated on college campuses, in classrooms, auditoriums, hallways, elevators, coffee houses, and newsrooms.
In New Hampshire, the state that holds the first presidential primary, Kristen Nevious, the director of The Marlin Fitzwater Center for Communication at Franklin Pierce University, organized news engagement activities throughout the state with schools, politicians, media, and even an extended day care center that published its first newspaper for kids in kindergarten through fifth grade.
Mindful of the loss of the availability of news during and following Hurricane Katrina, Sonya Duhé, director of the School of Mass Communication at Loyola University, New Orleans, developed a plan for engagement with news throughout New Orleans for not just one day but throughout the year. A centerpiece of their year-long focus on news is an app they created to encourage students to regularly engage with news.
In Washington, D.C. at American University, John Watson, director of the Journalism Division of the School of Communication, thought gaming would be the perfect vehicle for engaging students with news so he created “The News Games,” a campus-wide currents events quiz competition with prizes and “Jeopardy”-like questions, including video questions asked by journalists and the university’s president.
As part of the first National News Engagement Day, we also polled the public to establish a baseline for news engagement and attitudes about the press. Compared to a classic 1964 Journalism Quarterly study which found 87% of adults engaged with news by reading newspapers regularly, the AEJMC Poll found only 57% of adults engaged with news seven days a week and when asked about purposely seeking news, that percentage dropped to 44%.
The Poll also found 51% of the public gave the press a grade of C or below for its news coverage. When asked about news coverage of the most important problem, 60% said the press deserved a grade of C, D, or F. Some of the reason for the less than stellar grades may be due to the fact that over a quarter of poll participants (28%) strongly felt that news organizations were more concerned about being first than being right. These poll results which are posted at newsengagement.org should be a wake-up call and reminder that National News Engagement Day must be about more than engaging with news. It must also help the public better understand journalism’s role and principles as well as the benefits of engaging with news and being informed.
Now that the first National News Engagement Day is part of AEJMC’s history, let’s mark our calendars for Tuesday, October 6, 2015 when we will once again do as NBC news anchor Brian Williams so eloquently stated in his video message: “Lift up and celebrate the value of news and the importance of being engaged in this world we live in.”