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Thread: Journalistic responsibility to educate the public?

  1. #1

    Journalistic responsibility to educate the public?

    I come across many news articles that discuss elements of planning on a daily basis. Many of these articles are not good articles either but stories about how traditional suburbs are a pleasure to live in and how urban growth boundaries are doomed to failure. I know that a lot of these stories are peoples opinions but don't these 'journalists' have a responsibility to tell accurate stories and ones that will benefit and educate the public. Many people do not know or understand why suburban sprawl is harmful or how much rural land an urban boundary can help conserve and by not bringing these issues to light people just go on in their daily lives not giving a ****.

    What does everyone else think??

  2. #2
    Apr 1997
    In a Van Down By the River
    Maybe we should just educate the journalists and make sure they are fully informed? Personally I think the average person will "just go on in their daily lives not giving a ****" no matter what planners or journalists do.

    I was reading the paper this week from a place I used to live in Florida. The county is in the process of some major comp plan revisions. The county and the local paper have been doing a great job of getting the word out, bringing the issues to light and advertising public meetings. Out of 200,000 county residents, 40 showed up for the county's public meetings.

    I don't mean to sound cynical, but I think the average person is going to be apathetic or complacent no matter how good the journalism surrounding planning issues is. People who want to take part and be informed will actively seek information.

  3. #3
    Member Mary's avatar
    Aug 2001
    I would love believe that such a thing would ever happen but I can't see how it will. The press hasn't been in the news business for quiet awhile. Don't get me wrong I know there are still some good reporters out there but on the whole what we are shown, especially on TV, but even newspaper and radio is designed to entertain not to inform.

    If they wanted to inform we'd get news about the wars raging around the world, and more information on government policy. possibly even follow up on earlier stories. Instead we get the most graphic tapes, the most morally controversial stories and lots of stuff about famous people. Other stories are human interest are limited to things that usually seem trivial and are only on when nothing sensational happen that week.

    We obsess over missing interns because she worked for a congressman. How many other girls go missing each year? While things that shape and change the world are mostly ignored.

    Sorry it's a personal soap box I guess I just don't feel that the news, unless it's a news radio station or public radio, is going to work to inform people about anything much less on something as specific as sprawl issues.

  4. #4
    Sometimes I think we forget how individualized everyone's personal passions are. Most who read this board are very concerned about the community they live in.

    There are folks I work with now who are tremendously concerned with our extremely boring office work. Most of the time, I just don't understand how they get so excited about Excel spreadsheets. They probably look at anti-sprawl enthusiasts the same way.

    My point is this- as important as fighting sprawl may be to some of us, others may be equally engrossed in raising ostriches, improving their canasta game, or competing in amateur road races.

    Since planning is in many ways a labyrinthine subject with many casue and effect chains, you're not going to get the average canasta-focused ostrich farmer to get involved unless you explain why this stuff is important to their lives. That's the beauty of planning issues- this is a question you can answer for any individual!

    I am about to become a planning MA student this fall, and so far, I have had reasonable success spreading the word about Smart Growth by talking one-on-one with people until they get it.

    Here's my suggestion:

    1)Identify ten people, some you know well, some you don't. Even better, identify some who may be leaders or influencers in their community.

    2)Go and talk to them about planning until they are concerned enough to talk to others about it.

    I have been working on a few people in this area, and I have one friend who has bought an urban-sprawl cul-de-sac house who suddenly has a great sense of consciousness that his individual choices are part of a greater trend, and he is starting to bang the Smart Growth drum at his local town meeting in the name of pedestrian-oriented development.

    Other than that-
    -find out who the local planning-related reporter is and feed them all the research you can.

  5. #5
    Another thing you can do is to write letters to the editor yourself on sprawl-related issues. You will probably need to adapt your language from the detached and guarded scientific-policy style you may be used to to one of a more polemical nature, but I've noticed that these ARE things that average people care about dearly because they can hit so close to home, but are also underreported.

    There are few stories by journalists about how general policy changes (a new growth management act) will affect a community, and this is where planners can really make a difference in informing the community.

    Where I live (the Netherlands) the paper generally accepts 1000 words or less, which shouldn't take more than a couple hours to write. I imagine that this isn't much different in the US. I have found this to be rewarding, especially when it sparks off a thread of letters.

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