Jessie Cadle | Staff Writer
In a time when smartphones and iPads are as common as knitting needles in the Amphitheater, it is critical to ask what impact the burgeoning digital world has on fostering or hindering an informed American electorate and the subsequent effect on their engagement with news and information.
“The benefits (to the digital age) are it’s not one size fits all. We fit your lifestyle, and not just your lifestyle, but whatever your lifestyle is at the given moment,” said Vivian Schiller, senior vice president and chief digital officer at NBC News. “The downside is we live in a very segmented media society right now, and if there were to be someone that only wanted to hear about a particular point of view or sets of points of view, it would be very easy not to be exposed to anything else.”
Schiller explores the impact of this week’s theme of “Digital Identity” on the public, specifically during an election time period, during a conversation with NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday in the Amphitheater.
The two converse from two sides of the same coin. Both are media elite, but Folkenflik probes the media with a critical eye, while Schiller creates and explores new platforms for media consumption.
Schiller has dabbled in the best journalism the United States has to offer. She began her career in television at Turner Broadcasting. She then worked with CNN and moved to the then-called Discovery Times Channel, which collaborated with The New York Times.
She then ran the online Times as senior vice president in the early 2000s before becoming CEO of NPR, until she resigned last year.
Since her job at The New York Times, she has worked in the digital world and searches for where and how media is consumed in a multi-media society.
“We are talking about a generational shift of the way people consume media … my teenagers are digital natives,” Schiller said. “They don’t remember a time when they didn’t have access to the Internet … Their brains are wired differently than mine. They are a completely different flavor of news consumer.
“And that is going to have a huge impact on civic life.”
She will talk with Folkenflik because of his insight into how media has changed during his years analyzing it.
“He is one of the smartest journalists I know on the state of the media,” Schiller said. “And if I am going to be in a dialogue with someone in front of 4,000 people in Chautauqua who probably have higher IQs than most, I want to be in a dialogue with somebody who really gets it.”
Both Schiller and Folkenflik seek to fully understand and move with the digital future. Though both concede that digital media has obvious pitfalls, the two remain optimistic about the future of a society cradled and cultivated by new waves of news and technology.
“I think the ways in which … people around the world have access to information that they never could have before is a wonderful, wonderful thing,” she said. “We have all of these incredible tools … how could this possibly be something we wish didn’t happen?”
Though Folkenflik has written countless stories on the way digital media fractures and denigrates the news industry, he said he similarly believes audiences and newsmakers must seek out what is new and promising, instead of immediately rejecting it based on its face value.
The key for Folkenflik is that the digital age requires citizens to work harder in sifting through the media to find and understand the facts.
“This is like upper-level citizenship. It’s not 101 anymore, it’s 301. You can’t just receive wisdom,” Folkenflik said. “You’ve got to do more … test your own assumptions.”
Both Folkenflik and Schiller suggest to news consumers that they seek not only more news sources, but also those sources that do not align with their point of view, to understand the depth of current news.
What Schiller highlights for news makers is they all must share the same facts. Her current mantra is from former New York Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan: Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but everyone is not entitled to their own facts.
The real problem comes to fruition when news outlets and blogs alter the facts, Schiller said.
Folkenflik cited the incorrect facts that arose after the Affordable Care Act decision came down from the U.S. Supreme Court. Both CNN and Fox News gave incorrect initial reports, while independent SCOTUSblog, run by a lawyer, had the facts correct the first time, he said.
That ability to sift and have media literacy is essential, Schiller said.
“Our journalism has to be top notch. It has to be true, it has to be accurate, it has to be fair, it has to be sourced. Those things are immutable facts as far as I’m concerned,” Schiller said. “The rest of it is test and learn and see what the audience likes.”
As a digital officer, Schiller’s job revolves around finding how consumers find news. The key, she said, lies not in what consumers say they want, but in following and studying their actual behaviors.
From there, media executives can shift how they deliver news, she said. But regardless of the channel or delivery, it is how audience members engage and use that information in this upcoming election season that matters.