Teaching the 2016 Election: The Press - Our Portal to Politics

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar

Thomas Jefferson wrote the following in a letter to Edward Carrington in 1787:
The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers & be capable of reading them.
From the country’s inception, newspapers, and the press more generally, have played an essential role in the birth and sustenance of democracy. It is through the media that we obtain vital information about our government, the issues of the day, and candidates for public office.

The nature of our press is in a constant state of flux, and we live in a contradictory age when information is more prolific and accessible than ever before, yet successive generations have seemingly turned away from newspapers and other rich sources of information on public issues.

It is therefore our obligation as educators to reverse this trajectory, harvest the power of the Digital Age, and foster lifelong habits of discerning media attentiveness among students.

We have framed the 2016 Election as a seminal teachable moment, and press coverage of the proverbial “horse race” is ubiquitous. Our two-part primer on polling is helpful to this end, but we must also mine campaign media further for information on campaign strategies, and arguably most importantly, the prevailing issues in play.

We’ll devote Wednesday’s blog to resources that foster news literacy in the context of campaigns, but conclude here with recommended staples for you and your students’ daily news diet:
  • Illinois Playbook by Politico: Daily digest of all things political in Chicago, Illinois, and the U.S. Features excerpts of news articles from a diverse array of media sources.
  • The Morning Spin by the Chicago Tribune: A more concise version of Illinois Playbook featuring a couple of daily Tribune stories and links to others they’re writing and reading.
  • Crain’s On Politics: Similar to the Morning Spin, but heavy on Crain’s content and contains editorial flair.
  • Capitol Fax blog by Rich Miller: Go-to source for information on Illinois politics with a particular emphasis on Springfield. While there is a subscriber option, much of the material is free.
  • Illinois Issues by WUIS: Daily compilation by Springfield NPR affiliate of state political news, and sign-up available for a weekly email digest.
  • NBC Politics First Read: Primarily horse race coverage of the presidential contest, but in manageable daily doses first thing each morning. Its sister, The Lid, offers an evening recap of the day’s developing stories.

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