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2016 Denius Symposium on News Integrity

By TAYLOR JACKSON BUCHANAN

Set against the backdrop of the polarizing 2016 presidential election, this year’s Denius Symposium on News Integrity focused on the public’s trust of the news media.

The event, held at the Moody College of Communication on Oct. 26, featured a panel of prominent speakers with a range of perspectives on politics and journalism. They included former State Senator Wendy Davis, the state Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 2014, Republican strategist Rob Johnson and Texas Tribune Editor-in-Chief Emily Ramshaw. Dr. Sharon Jarvis, a Communications Studies professor and an associate director of the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Participation, moderated the discussion.

“At the heart of whether journalism thrives or perishes is the issue of trust,” said R.B. Brenner, director of the School of Journalism and a sponsor of the symposium. “Trust is multi-faceted. The public has to believe that journalists are absolutely devoted to accuracy and that they aren’t approaching issues with an agenda.”

The event also presented findings from a national survey on election and political coverage. Dr. Talia Stroud, also an associate director of the Strauss Institute, led a team of nine undergraduate and two graduate students in conducting the Texas Media and Society Survey.

“The Denius Symposium and the Texas Media and Society Survey start an important conversation about journalism’s respected role in our democracy,” Dr. Stroud said. “The survey results show a public with deep skepticism about the media and politics, and we are challenged to think about how to improve news media in today's climate.”

The Denius Symposium is made possible by a gift from the Cain Foundation, including Wofford and Beth Denius. It is hosted annually by the Strauss Institute for Civic Life, the Engaging News Project and the School of Journalism. Funding the survey were the Cain Foundation, the Denius Chair for Press Integrity, the Moody Endowment for Excellence in Communication and the Strauss Institute.

While it is easier to stake out broad positions in social media and on cable TV, Brenner said, essential discussions occur in thoughtful, well-informed, in-person dialogue. He said the Denius Symposium serves as an important forum for scholarly examination of critical issues.

“Every day now, whether on a Twitter feed, or flipping through cable channels or listening to the radio, we are bombarded with voices,” Brenner said.  “It all too often seems like the same talking heads are shouting about their extreme political positions. This symposium is an attempt to bring in thoughtful people and to give them the time and space to explore the essential issues of news integrity.” 

Buchanan is the School of Journalism webmaster and a graduate student in the master's pro-track program.