Conference to examine 'The Media, Public Policy and the Age of Indifference'

Conference to examine ‘The Media, Public Policy and the Age of Indifference’

Statistics tell us that young adults increasingly are tuning out news about public affairs, politics and the activities of government. Fewer than 28 percent of Americans in their mid-30s say they read a newspaper every day, compared with 74 percent in 1972. And only 11 percent of young people rank the news as a major reason for logging onto the Internet.

Many consider those statistics to be alarming, including a host of experts who will come together for a conference at the University of St. Thomas’ Minneapolis campus Saturday, March 25, to discuss “The Media, Public Policy and the Age of Indifference.”

In an era when many media outlets are reducing their coverage of public affairs and increasing their coverage of sports, crime and popular culture, the March 25 conference will consider three broad questions:

  • What is the impact when an entire generation tunes out?
  • Why do young adults appear to be disinterested in governmental and public-policy issues?
  • How well are schools equipping students to be good citizens?

The conference will run from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Thornton Auditorium in St. Thomas’ Terrence Murphy Hall. The event’s main sponsor is the Public Policy and Leadership Program, which is part of the university’s School of Education.

David Mindich   Deborah Howell

Featured speakers will be David Mindich, chair of the Journalism and Mass Communications Department at St. Michael’s College, and Deborah Howell, ombudsman for the Washington Post.

Mindich will discuss “America's Tuned-Out Generation” at 9 a.m. A former CNN assignment editor, he is author of Tuned Out: Why Americans Under 40 Don’t Follow the News.

Howell will discuss “The Challenges Facing Today’s Editors” during the conference’s noon luncheon. She is the former director of Newhouse News Service and former editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Three panel discussions are planned.

Dave Nimmer of St. Thomas will moderate a 10:30 a.m. panel on “What’s Happened to Civics Education (and Why Don’t Our Kids Know More About Their Government)?” Panel members will be Michael Boucher, president of the Minnesota Council for the Social Studies; James Murphy, principal at Shakopee High School; and Alice Seagren, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Education.

Lynda McDonnell of St. Thomas will moderate a 2 p.m. panel on “Is There Still a Market for Public Affairs Coverage?” Panel members will be Brian Lambert, KTLK FM talk-show host and former media critic at the Pioneer Press; D. J. Tice, state government and politics editor at the Star Tribune; and Bill Wareham, news director at Minnesota Public Radio.

Steve Dornfeld of the Metropolitan Council will moderate a 3:45 p.m. panel on “What Happens When the Watchdogs Stop Watching?” Panel members will be Jack Coffman, former statehouse and political reporter for the Pioneer Press; Curtis Johnson, urban affairs writer and former executive director of the Citizens League; Dee Long, lobbyist and former speaker of the Minnesota House; and Dan McElroy, senior adviser to Gov. Tim Pawlenty and a former state legislator.

Registration for the conference is required and can be completed at or by calling the university, (651) 962-4878. The cost is $45 (or $15 for students) if registered by March 10. After March 10 the cost is $55 (or $25 for students).

Co-sponsors of the conference are the Citizens League, Learning Law and Democracy Foundation, Minnesota Association of Government Communicators, Minnesota Association of Secondary School Principals, Minnesota Council for the Social Studies, Minnesota Newspaper Association, Minnesota Newspaper Foundation and Society of Professional Journalists.