BEDFORD — For better relationships, communication is key.

Saturday, folks from the Lawrence County community and representatives from multiple news organizations, including the Times-Mail newspaper, WTIU-WFIU radio and others, met at the StoneGate Arts and Education Center in Bedford, to help people better understand the inner workings of local news — and for media to understand how the community consumes and perceives the news.

The event was called “Making the News: A Community Conversation,” and was supported by funding from Indiana University’s Arts and Humanities Council and the New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities Program.

Jason Peifer, an assistant professor at IU’s Media School, organized the interaction for residents of the Bedford area to help shine a light on the journalism processes. Participants received lunch, an opportunity to share their thoughts on the profession and a $70 gift card. Results from participant surveys and a focus group discussion during the event will be used in a research study on public perceptions of journalism.

Lawrence County man Don Deckert, a construction worker, said he attended the event so he could better understand the process of gathering and delivering local news. Deckert said he receives most of his news from “the television or the newspaper” and isn’t a big fan of digital platforms because, in his view, it invites more “fraud.” He said a flier he received in the mail drew his interest.

Deckert compared the process of building a newspaper to construction.

“Having been in construction all my life, you want to have a product that’s safe and viable,” he said “Someone has to manage and make decisions on what you do on a daily business. ... I’d like to hear the details these guys have to go through every day to build a product.”

The event attracted the interest of young residents, too, including Bedford North Lawrence High School student Emma Grubb.

“I really like the communication with the panel and how you can speak about what you want,” she said. “I took a mass media class ... that was kind of a smaller version of this and I thoroughly enjoy that and talking about fake news and all that sort of stuff. So, I feel like going deeper into the subject of journalism, fake news and media is really broadening what I’m thinking about.

“As a high schooler, a lot of things are shoved down my throat, so this is giving me a new way to look at things.”

The day’s first panel, focused on editing and managing the news, included Bob Zaltsberg, former Herald-Times editor; Brian Paul Kaufman, Times-Mail managing editor; Perry Metz,IU’s executive director of radio and TV services, Sara Wittmeyer, WTIU and WFIU news bureau chief, and Jim Rodenbush, IU’s director of student media.

One of the topics discussed was how news organizations balance deciding what’s important information for readers to know and what readers themselves want. Moderator Teresa White focused on crime stories, specifically drug-related topics, and asked the panel members if prominence of those stories is a reflection of the local community or if the community has been conditioned to think it’s a huge problem.

“I agree with the point that 96, 97 percent of Lawrence County is out there working hard and doing their very best ... to make the community better,” Kaufman said. “So, we can’t fall into the trap of overemphasizing the crime issue ... I try to stay mindful of that.

“... At the same time, when something occurs in your neighborhood, you need to know about that. So, that’s why you will see meth dealing arrests and so forth. ... We’re trying to balance those things.”

Zaltsberg said crime stories and obituaries were always the most popular stories on the Herald-Times’ website.

The differences between national and local media also came up, and Zaltsberg cautioned against talking about “the media” in general terms. He said it’s important to understand the term “the media” shouldn’t be generally applied to all news organizations, because national ones and local ones are different beasts entirely.

“I think local news and local content is different from what many people think of as ‘the media,’” he said. “... For us, it starts with listening to what the readers want and trying to deliver that.”

When consuming media, Metz said, people should take into consideration reader expectations and the mission statements from various news sources. To contrast with smaller, local news sources, he used MSNBC and Fox News as examples of national news organizations that cater to entertainment and opinions more than anything.

“So, if you want to hear Rachel Maddow get snarky about President Trump and taking delight in pointing outeveryerror, youcanturn it to MSNBC,” he said. “If you want to hear Lou Dobbs lose his temper one more time at the evil in the Democratic Party, you’re watching Fox (News).

“Those are what we call echo chambers. The audiences are made up of people who have largely made up their minds and don’t want to be bothered by facts. ... The reason I got into journalism in the first place was because it was more talking about “the how and the why” and assuming the reader, armed with information, was smart enough to make up their own mind.”

The event also featured panels on reporting the news and investigation and the news, as well as a survey and group discussions.

© 2019, Bedford, IN.