By Renee Muniz
LOGOS STAFF WRITER
Nearly 300 people came to hear a special panel discuss the “News Media and the 2016 Presidential Election” in an Oct. 18 forum at the University of the Incarnate Word.
Cosponsored by the School of Media and Design and its Department of Communication Arts, the forum in the Luella Bennack Music Center’s concert hall became both an intriguing and educational event for the UIW community.
Dr. Sharon Welkey, dean of the school, asked Dr. Valerie Greenberg, an associate professor of communication arts, to put the event together.
“I thought it was important for the students at Incarnate Word to hear from prominent newspeople,” Greenberg said. “I really created it for the Communication Arts Department to see how a huge event like the presidential election was playing out with a lot of rivalry and how unusual ethics is covered by various news media organizations.”
Greenberg invited State Rep. Diego Bernal of San Antonio to join four media representatives on the panel: Kelsey Bradshaw, digital editor of MYSA.com; Shelley Kofler, news director of Texas Public Radio, Mike Leary, editor-in-chief and vice president of the San Antonio Express-News; and Mariana Veraza, anchor at Univision Austin Affiliate.
The panelists discussed issues concerning the media, how their news outlets have covered the 2016 election and the impact it has had.
One of the issues brought up concerned comedic shows such as “Saturday Night Live” and the role of comedy in the election.
“We live in a society that values, in fact, expects entertainment,” Kofler said.
Bradshaw said she has enjoyed coming home to these funny skits after a long week at work and believes they help manage the anxiety the election has created.
However, Leary, the most experienced media panelist, saw SNL and other comedy shows in a different light.
“This hasn’t really been a very funny campaign,” said Leary, who won a Pulitzer Prize while he was with The Philadelphia Inquirer. “It’s gone very low and dealt with subjects in a really crude manner. At the same time, that has led to really great opportunities for late-night, talk-show hosts and ‘Saturday Night Live’ comedians to sort of tell home truths about events that are not very funny.”
One of the not-funny incidents occurred when Univision anchor Jorge Ramos was thrown out of a Donald Trump press conference. Veraza, a UIW communication arts graduate, said she wondered what she would have done.
Veraza said she “could not imagine getting kicked out of a press conference. Even though it was something that affected us directly as a company, our job was still to cover both sides of the issue and keep going with the coverage of the election. And just keep covering and talking about the issues that affect our audience — not so much specifically what happened to him.”
Juan Cisneros, a freshman who attended the forum, said he was fascinated by politics, and glad to have heard viewpoints other than his own.
Cisneros said he was amazed how media members remain unbiased while “they are doing coverage about each of the candidates. I think that was something really reassuring to hear since lately we have been hearing all these claims about the media’s bias and trying to support one candidate more than another, so that point was really refreshing.”
Bernal, a former San Antonio city councilman who manages his own social media accounts, said he has noticed the transition from using social media as a ranting session to “a means of communication and a means of taking a temperature of an issue.”
Bernal said, “It’s not that people really care about what coffee shop I went to, or if I was in line at midnight to see ‘Batman vs. Superman.’ They want me to respond to them. They write to me. Even if they’re criticizing me, they want a response. They want something that acknowledges what they said and would like to have a conversation.”
In some ways, the candidates have used social media as a place to vent rather than a formal use of conversation with voters.
Kofler pointed out that “the media is often a convenient target for when things are going bad with the campaign — or anybody who’s been covered by the media — [when] they don’t exactly like the way some of the stories are being written.”
This is exemplified by Trump accusing the media of having a role in rigging the election, Kolfer explains.
The panelists assured the audience the media is not rigging the election in any way. However, they did believe the overall national media needs a little improvement.
“I don’t think the national media in particular did a very good job covering the presidential candidates during the earliest part of the election process, especially during the primaries,” Bradshaw said. “I’m especially amazed that it took so long for us to find out so many things about issues that have been out there for several years and were in the candidate’s background.”
Bernal added, “One of the greatest acts of patriotism is acknowledging the good that we’ve done and the profit we’ve made, and at the same time, criticizing (the) country because you know we can be better.”
Veraza made it clear that journalists ultimately listen to their audience on what they want covered but the media covers all sides.
Veraza, who said she had never taken part in a panel discussion before, felt it was a privilege to take part in this specific panel. She said she especially enjoyed the audience showing they care about certain issues.
“To me as a journalist, to hear those issues and to hear their voices was very important because now we know how to focus our information and the voice we can be for them,” Veraza said.
The moderator, Dr. Trey Guinn, an assistant professor of communication arts, said he felt fortunate and grateful to be at a place like UIW where conversations such as that addressed by the panel are open to the public, where individuals can be “unafraid, and [be] willing to dig deep on serious manners that will affect many lives.”
Guinn, who wanted some of the SNL skits to be seen before the panel took the stage, said, “I hope the audience felt a sense of value that they matter and their vote matters, and not just that they vote but that they be informed that they be engaged civically. And with that, they be willing to engage ideas that may be very different than what they walked in here tonight with.”