Speaker Discusses Need for Inclusivity, Local Representation in News

The Kent State School of Media and Journalism (MDJ) welcomed Mizell Stewart III, award winning reporter, corporate news executive and president and CEO of Emerging Leaders LLC, to give the third annual Dix Media Ethics Lecture, “Journalism as a Civic Good,” on March 1, 2023.

The lecture opened with a statement of gratitude toward David and Janet Dix, who established the speaker series in 2018 with endowment gift of $100,000.

“This series has been made possible by an extremely generous gift,” said Associate Professor Gretchen Hoak, Ph.D., who served as the faculty moderator for the event. “With (Janet and David) Dix’s help, MDJ has been able to bring dynamic speakers to campus to discuss critical, ethical issues facing journalists and media industry professionals today.”

Stewart began by honoring Media and Journalism alumna Mandy Jenkins, B.S. ’02, M.A. ’04, who died after four years of cancer treatment Feb. 26, and crossed professional paths with Stewart over the years.

“Mandy charted a course for journalists and journalism through the thick of the industry’s digital transformation with passion, optimism and courage,” Stewart said. “Her life and career are proof that universities in the Mid-American Conference provide the best foundation for people who aspire to be impact players in their chosen fields of endeavor. … She will be missed, but never forgotten.”

In his keynote address, Stewart argued that “journalism as a civic good — created by the people and financed by the people” is an avenue to rebuild “the public square” of America.

“Quality local journalism supports civic engagement by equipping citizens with the information and knowledge they need to make a positive difference in their community,” Stewart said.

Mizell Stewart III
Photo by Dakota Varney, '23

The decline of local journalism jobs and outlets has led to a reliance on national broadcast and cable news, and in return, a distrust of journalists and journalism in general. He noted the $1.6 billion dollar lawsuit against Fox News by the Dominion Voting System over the 2020 election fraud claims as one example.

“It is no wonder, then, that the polls show that trust in journalists and the news media continues to decline and today hovers at an all-time low,” Stewart said.

According to Stewart, advertiser support is also at an all-time low with digital companies such as Buzzfeed, Vice and Vox, as platforms like Facebook, Google, Instagram and TikTok are at the top of audience attention. The market failure of independent, non-partisan, fact-based journalism is something he considers the greatest ethical challenge facing media professionals. The loss of local news reporting affects democracy itself, he said.

“Addressing these ethical dilemmas will require us to redefine the role of accountability journalism and local information in a functioning democracy as a civic good that deserves support from the entire community,” Stewart said, “rather than a luxury subject to market forces and the whims of billionaires.”

Journalism has never been perfect whether local or national, and throughout history, it has promoted popularity over necessity, Stewart said.

“Increasingly, journalism today serves the elite who can pay, the investors who risk capital in search of a financial return and insiders who provide access and recognition,” he added.

And as America becomes more diverse, journalism ought to reflect that — both in its coverage of communities and in the makeup of newsrooms.

“The obligation of news organizations … is to reflect America as it is,” Stewart said. “…Accurate journalism is inclusive journalism. If we are excluding entire categories of people, if the makeup of our newsrooms does not reflect the makeup of the communities that we serve, we are not telling the story accurately.”

Hoak moderated an engaging question-and-answer session. The entire lecture can be viewed online.

POSTED: Friday, March 3, 2023 03:00 PM
Updated: Tuesday, April 18, 2023 02:23 PM
Kaitlyn Finchler, '23