The end of fake news

Frankly, it’s hard to foresee things getting much better nationally for the next year or so. I’m more worried about our country than at any time in my 78-year lifetime.

Oh, sure, Michigan should do pretty well. The auto industry is likely to continue to post robust annual sales numbers, which reached more than 17 million vehicles last year, though perhaps not at the same pace as recent years.

The unemployment rate should continue to inch down. Downtown and Midtown Detroit will continue its upward march.

But under it all, I’m very worried about the underlying foundations of our state — and nation.

On top of my worry list is the continued deterioration of what might be called the mainstream media, particularly newspapers, which for more than a century have served as the essential, impartial chronicle of events and the crucial ingredients of our civil discourse.

When I started out in the newspaper business in the mid-1960’s, there were a couple of busloads-worth of Lansing-based reporters covering the politics and policy of our state.

There are far fewer reporters watchdogging the happenings under the capitol dome these days. Newspapers have suffered round after round of cuts for years now as the Internet, social media, satellite radio and many other competing forces for citizens’ leisure time have eroded the traditional journalism business model and snatched the attention spans of many newspaper readers.

No offense to the ink-stained souls who are still working mightily to keep newspapers alive. But they have fewer and fewer resources at every turn. And most of today’s reporters must run from assignment to assignment, sending social media updates as they go, and have precious little time to think, inquire, or investigate beyond the basics of who, what, when, where and why.

Too many meetings and committee hearings go unwatched. Too many public records go unreviewed. Too many questions go unasked. That’s not the fault of the remaining reporters and editors. But it’s bad for democracy.

Because today’s journalists are simply outnumbered.

Into the void comes plenty of infotainment and fake news – further eroding public focus on truth, justice, and accountability.

These are among the reasons we started Bridge Magazine five years ago – to help bolster journalism and provide nonpartisan, thoughtful, trustworthy news coverage for the many thousands of readers in Michigan who care for our state. We’ve earned a slew of state and national awards, including the “Michigan Press Association Newspaper of the Year.” More important, we’re appealing to Michiganders who want and need trustworthy news coverage: We attracted a million unique visitors to our website last year. (For a comprehensive archive of our stories, go here.)

And, through a new partnership with the Michigan Press Association, newspapers can offer syndicated Bridge content to local readers statewide.

Closely associated with the decline of traditional news media is the ongoing fracturing of our society into separate, mutually exclusive and mistrustful groups in our state, each occupying a distinguishable slice of our demography but with little interest in or understanding of the others: Trump or Clinton or third-party voters, elites of all stripes, urban dwellers, residents of rural Michigan, African Americans, disaffected millennials, Muslim and immigrant families, conservative Christians, the LGBT and the disabled communities.

To a degree previously unmatched, each group is spoken to — and defined — by its own distinctive slice of social media and residential sorting. People tend to live with those like themselves.

Why is this worrying? Just take a quick look at the election just passed, which was by all odds the most virulently nasty in at least the past 50 years. Even here in Michigan, where the voters are generally pretty well-mannered, the partisan gaps yawned wide.

And there’s nothing on the horizon that will fill up the chasms that will dominate the 2018 election, when the governorship, every major statewide office and both houses of the state legislature will be up for grabs.

Unless something changes, the built-in dynamics of the political parties and their special interest allies – aided by a fractured, diminished and pulverized media environment – will surely replicate a version of the embarrassing political process we just endured.

That’s why the Center for Michigan is in the process of widening and deepening its public engagement activities, which since 2007 have involved more than 45,000 Michiganders in small “community conversations” throughout the state. In age, gender, place of residence and race the participants in these bottom-up gatherings have looked just like the diverse face of Michigan and form a truly representative sample of citizen preferences in our state.

This year we hope to develop common ground citizen priorities and policy platforms to help channel election-year rhetoric into constructive, substantive discussion of what’s needed to make Michigan a better place.

To further combat hyper-partisanship and fake news, we are developing a Michigan Facts Guide – 100 fact-checked statistical measures of Michigan’s economy, education system, public health, environment and other quality of life factors. This guide will help ground the public, the candidates for office, the policy makers – not to mention Bridge reporters and our public engagement team – in what is real and what is not in today’s noisy environment.

We’ll also publish a Michigan Solutions Guide that will provide grounding in a wide range of policy reform proposals presented over various years by various experts and groups across the political spectrum. Both will be published this spring.

To understand just why we think these guides are important, remember what happened in the discussions that led to the “Grand Bargain,” the citizen-based deal the cemented Detroit’s return from bankruptcy and laid the foundation for the city’s growth today.

Every element of the stakeholder community in Michigan’s largest city participated in the discussion. Judges, policy experts, academics, newspaper reporters, the business community — all participated in the discussions that led to one of the most extraordinary achievements in Michigan’s history as a civil society.

An achievement, that is, that was also broadly accepted.

We’re going to have to do much the same over the next two years to lay the groundwork for a better Michigan. We need to figure out how to deal with our schools, which by most measures are failing to keep up with those in other states. We need to work out how to support our urban communities, which are presently being strangled by state and tax provisions. We have enormous infrastructure needs – including systems for safe water in Flint and elsewhere.

And most of all, we need to attract, train and retain thousands of America’s best and brightest to help drive our state’s progress.

There is only one way to do all these essential things:

We ALL must learn to work together in developing a citizen agenda for a better Michigan — and in constructing a practical implementation strategy to get it done.

It’s a two-year New Year challenge. And one that will be vitally important to the future of all our citizens.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

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Thu, 01/05/2017 - 9:57am

Good article, Phil. The Center for Michigan and Bridge have been important forces for provoking thought and discussion about where we are as a state, and where we (should) want to be.One suggested minor revision/addition to your essay. In your comments about the "Grand Bargain," credit should also be given to the critically important role that the foundation community played in that affair, particularly the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan. Philanthropy will continue to be and increasingly important and influential player in developing Michigan's potential.Keep up the good work.

Thu, 01/05/2017 - 10:00am

Excellent column! I applaud all you are doing in safeguarding our Democracy. You hit the nail on the head with your comments regarding newspapers and fake news sites. Let's hope a majority of Michiganders, and Americans across this great land follow your lead...otherwise we are doomed to enter a spiral that could result in a second class country.

Thu, 01/05/2017 - 10:01am

Phil I am glad someone is worried about our nations future. The past few years have been unlike anything I can recall in my 70 years. The next four will be unlike anything we can imagine. Peace R.L.

Thu, 01/05/2017 - 10:05am

Frank I don't know if we are 1st or 2nd class but our country has lost it's moral compass. What we choose to accept today was totally unacceptable a few decade ago. This next few years will tell the tale. peace R.L.

Thu, 01/05/2017 - 10:31am

Phil, you're right, news papers, television news and social media have all failed at their task. In that process, they have lost the confidence of the public and there is a very real danger to the entire country. Indeed, if newspapers want to stop the bleeding, they should begin by instituting objectivity and honesty as their goal again. Forget their political connections to begin reporting the unbiased truth. Treat the reader with all due respect while concurrently holding politicians and political parties with unvarnished skepticism they so aptly deserve. Stop kowtowing to the ruling elite and hold them accountable. Each and every agency in gov't has failed to meet their stated goal. When will the news media recognize that the public is not going to tolerate political pablum any longer?

Sun, 01/08/2017 - 2:34pm

"tolerate political pablum"....heck we elected it this fall...

Thu, 01/05/2017 - 10:36am

Thank you for this timely column. It is so important to run political rhetoric and fake news through the fact mill and churn out evidence based facts for everyone to rely upon and refer to when assessing strategies and future goals for our state.

Thu, 01/05/2017 - 11:20am

I agree completely with your column! But please add good governance to your Michigan facts guide.

Rick N.
Thu, 01/05/2017 - 11:36am

Mr. Power -Excellent summation of our society's current issues. Sometimes it is hard to maintain an optimistic view for the future, but history suggests the pendulum will someday swing back the other way. While gravity provides some of the momentum to reverse course, a reactive force to power the swing is also needed. Recognizing the facts and speaking the truth are essential components of this force, and that is what the Center for Michigan and Bridge magazine are helping provide. Thank you, and keep up the good work!

Thu, 01/05/2017 - 11:38am

I'm afraid that the United States has become a second class country! Michigan has become a third class State with little transparency in governance, corruption, money speaking louder then the truth. and a current standing government that is so biased that it stinks! So good luck with what your trying to do Phil. You have to beat out the lobbyists and all their money do do anything productive. Then add to all this muck you have the apathy of so many disenfranchised voters that the task becomes even greater.

Sun, 01/08/2017 - 10:10am

Thanks for your enlightening comments, Nick. They are so positive, factually based and non biased. I guess that we are all doomed.

Thu, 01/05/2017 - 12:00pm

"Closely associated with the decline of traditional news media is the ongoing fracturing of our society into separate, mutually exclusive and mistrustful groups in our state, each occupying a distinguishable slice of our demography but with little interest in or understanding of the others: Trump or Clinton or third-party voters, elites of all stripes, urban dwellers, residents of rural Michigan, African Americans, disaffected millennials, Muslim and immigrant families, conservative Christians, the LGBT and the disabled communities."I am a conservative Christian about your age, and contend that most of the divisions you describe were either artificial or manufactured by special interest groups, or a reflection of our country's declining culture or its secularization, including a breakdown of the family unit. As a conservative Christian, all I want is to be left alone, and my personal values respected and not subjected to pressure to change. And I'll do the same for any person, regardless of my disagreement with theirs.

Sun, 01/08/2017 - 9:31am

I worked in the public schools of a large urban area for 35 years and saw nuclear as well as extended families nurturing its members. I live in a neighborhood of caring working people. Please explain what you mean by "breakdown of the family unit".

Mon, 01/09/2017 - 8:11am

Sorry to jump in but, how about 2 married parents of the given child? While I love my grand kids I won't pretend to provide the level of care and attention that their parents do, nor could I or might I say anyone else. The stats condemn your contention otherwise, if that's your point.

Robyn Tonkin
Mon, 01/09/2017 - 12:00pm

What I don't understand is what your religion has to do with so much that goes on locally. When it comes to infrastructure repair, job creation, mass transit, lack of interest in local elections, what does being Christian have to do with it. You could have made a comment without bringing up your religion. I can certainly make this comment without mentioning my feelings at all about an afterlife or god. why can't you? having to always put that first and foremost is one of the problems here.

Thu, 01/05/2017 - 12:03pm

Unfortunately, statistics can be made to say whatever you want them to.

Stephen C Brown
Fri, 01/06/2017 - 1:59pm

RICH-Lies and Damn Lies, eh? Of course! But citing methods, complete data downloads, and conflicts of interest give anyone the ability to review and comment, in a search for the truth. Without data, you're just another guy with an opinion. Even data itself can be fudged, but not without someone noticing when it's not kept "behind the curtain".

Bill Norris
Thu, 01/05/2017 - 1:03pm

Like many others, I feel that quality news reporting at all levels, is important to keep citizens informed , and our elected and appointed officials aware that we are paying attention to what they are doing, or not doing.

Mary Comar
Thu, 01/05/2017 - 1:43pm

Phil, Well put. Let's "Do it!". Including NPR, and PBS, the transition from objective reporting of the facts in all air time, I experience the pundits now stooping to interview each other and others guessing about the future. While they do this, other real news goes unreported. From your report, this is because of lack of staffing and funding. To begin, without more funding, how do we end this prediction reporting.

Paul Russo
Thu, 01/05/2017 - 2:12pm

I agree with your comments, but the fight for real freedom and the major problems facing America, are too big to fix without a new government system. Both parties have corruption and are controlled by big money. Big government, massive debt,, crime ( no law & order) public schools ( controlled by unions ) Illegals, good paying jobs and the demand for more Free Stuff by a runaway Welfare system. I really wonder if America best days are over. I wish BRIDGE success and hope it will help the people in getting the real facts from Bridge media. Because of fake news, I used social media ( Facebook & Twitter ) and I hope got some real facts to the voters. The media failed the American voters.

Jim McKimmy
Thu, 01/05/2017 - 2:18pm

Phil, thank you for your observations and the commitment to move forward in a positive direction. You publication of the current status in Michigan should be a very helpful tool in our community conversations. How can we help?

Bob Balwinski
Thu, 01/05/2017 - 2:24pm

We're in a post-truth era. When you confront someone with a mistaken point of view with actual data to indicate the contradiction, you are told that this data is not going to be believed.Rich is partially incorrect. Statistics is just mathematical data but "INTERPRETATIONS' of this data are often the issue. Also, many times complete data is not given but just those numbers that make one's case. My 12th graders were taught to recognize false data, falsely presented data especially in graphical forms, and incomplete data. I tried to make critical thinkers out of these students.

Thu, 01/05/2017 - 2:39pm This is the site for Stephen Dresch He wrote a MICHIGAN TECH'S VENTURES GROUP:CRIME PAYS IN MICHIGANbyStephen P. DreschThis makes for good reading. Up here In Upper Michigan we are 25% poverty.We are left out of all the help the Citys downstate get because we are a bunch of small towns,We have no one to fifght for our share.We just got a guy elected to represent that doesnt even live up here. They get a hunting camp and call it their addressOnce a month they give out surplus food,there are 800 people that have to stand out side with it snowing to get a box with a few things in it. People are working for min wage maybe working 2 jobs to get 40 hours,Still have to use food stamps to feed the family.Low income cant get help with rent or help to make a house safer and warmer, becase they give that money in grants to the big shots to make old buildings into apartments so theycan make more money.Calumet michigan one of the poorest town gave over $2million to make over old building to rent.People have to take cabs to work we dont have buses up here. We have a lot of small towns that were built around the copper mines. We have been poor up here forever when copper was king in the early 1900's every one had to work $1 a day .(Do a story on that) We have Houghton and Hancock near where I live .That is where the jobs are, Mich Tech, nursing home ,hospital. but they still need to take a cab, So they work almost 2 hours to pay for the cab Where I live anyone getting welfare has to work a certian number of days and if there are two people they have to work more. So the both work.We get out to work every day even when we have a storm. We got 110 inches of snow in December and every thing stayed open except the schools.Put something in about us. better yet come up here in the winter, There are dog sled races. Rent a snowmobleor cross country skisfind out what this Fissish word Sisu means .

Thu, 01/05/2017 - 6:20pm

Well said. I will continue to make an annual donation to support Bridge. I challenge all your readers to do the same.

Mark Swanson
Fri, 01/06/2017 - 7:43am

It's the lack of empathy and hypocrisy that's so prevalent in the current climate.

Scott Roelofs
Fri, 01/06/2017 - 11:59pm

I'm puzzled by Mr. Powers editorial. Generally, the first paragraph of a column lays the foundation for the rest of the column. He states: "Frankly, it\'92s hard to foresee things getting much better nationally for the next year or so. I\'92m more worried about our country than at any time in my 78-year lifetime." Then he spends the rest of his column bemoaning the state of journalism today. So is that really why he is pessimistic for the future? Really?? Or has he fallen into the same post-election depression that has befallen all of his friends of similar ideology?There are many reasons to be optimistic about the near-term future, despite the state of print news. Much of America between the two coasts has become turned off by much of the slanted media. I welcome Mr. Powers 'fact checked' reporting, provided that the 'facts' that are chosen for reporting are balanced. Too often, it seems to me that Bridge writers have a conclusion they want to push, and then they look for data to support their view. Train your writers to seek out all facts, and then report and let your readers decide.

Sun, 01/08/2017 - 1:09am

Is America truly in such a dire state or is this \'91journalists\'92 inflection point? Is the number of \'91journalists\'92 a valid measure of how well readers/public are informed or should it be how they use the information?Were the readers in the 1960s better informed than today's readers? Did the readers in the 1960s have greater access to information than today's?Is arbitrarily putting people into \'91tribes\'92 for convenience or is it feeding the divergence of perception? Is ethnicity, gender, geography more representative of who we are, than what we do or how we think? Is how we value education, family, personal responsibility, financial stability, and the effort we are willing to put into developing and maintaining them reflective of who we are more than our ethnicity, geography, religion, and the \'91generation\'92 we were born to? Does seeing us only as those \'91tribes\'92 mislead \'91journalists\'92 trying to understand us? Has being insulated in the cocoon of journalism contributed to \'91journalists\'92 missing social change and how people integrated such changes into everyday living? Is this the moment that reality breaks through the \'91journalists\'92 cocoon and they acknowledge the divergence of public and \'91journalists\'92 perceptions? If so here are some ideas to consider; accept that other people\'92s view of you/your profession are real/valid to them, ask why [look for how \'91we\'92 contributed to it] they hold that perception [do deny what they tell you], ask what \'91we\'92 can do differently to help people to better understand what we do and why and ask what do people need from \'91us\'92, and engage them, make them part of your process, be truly open and integrate them in to your operating process. Consider recruiting a cross section of people based on their demeanor; some that are comfortable giving their views [why and how], some that are uncomfortable but willing to voice their views, and some that are reserved and hesitant to be open and possibly offend. Better than any other demographic this will be an important way to measure \'91journalists\'92 willingness and capacity to listen and change how they are perceived. The more vocal to start the conversation, those in between adding to what others are sharing, and the most reserve to verify what has been talked about. If the reserved group doesn\'92t contribute then the \'91journalists\'92 aren\'92t listening.

Barbara Stevenson
Sun, 01/08/2017 - 4:06am

Thanks for your thoughtful column! Here are three things to think about .1 civics education must be improved and made more critical in k-12 education. 2 my husband and I both wanted to be involved in politics at high school and college age because of some very good public servants who inspired us here in Detroit to want to follow there path! 3 I am 70 and can still remember tv reporters delivering in depth white papers and actually offering some critical analysis! While I use social media it's not possible to offer in depth information in a few paragraphs, or a tweet ! There is a gap in attention span that needs to be overcome! Good luck and I certainly would be glad to be in one of your conversations!!!

George D Goodman
Sun, 01/08/2017 - 8:23am

Great article, Phil. I hope Bridge continues to be successful in filling the accurate news void.

Sun, 01/08/2017 - 8:59am

Have always enjoyed your insights Phil, but this week's column should be required reading. Not only for the citizens of Michigan, but across the country. One of the tenets of our democracy, transparent public scrutiny of its decision makers, has taken a back seat. Elected municipal groups of all stripes are making critical decisions without journalistic scrutiny. Thank you for articulating this unraveling of a free society's right to know.

Sun, 01/08/2017 - 2:46pm

Decades ago as the Soviet Union was attempting to restructure, Gorbachov called for "perestroika" and "glasnost", roughly meaning restructuring and openness of government...we need an openness as to who is contributing to our politicians, disclosure where our monies are being spent(Charter schools, auto insurance funds), and who owns what state properties. I am very concerned as we head into a new national administration and upcoming (2018) state elections that the goods of property in the state will be given away to private entities under the guise of privatization. We need an active press to monitor and disclose the upcoming attempts to monetize the pressing infrastructure problems our state faces.Without an active open press, the people cannot track everything going on in the state.