Civility Series recap, three more lectures coming
Sacred Heart University and the Town of Trumbull have been hosting several programs in a series of talks on civility this fall.
A third program took place on Oct. 25, and focused on Civility in the Media.
Three lectures remain in the civility series: Civility in Law on Sunday, Nov. 8 at 5 p.m. at Trumbull High School; Civility in Sports in the Forum at Sacred Heart University’s Martire Center on Sunday, Nov. 15 at 5 p.m.; and Civility in Education on Sunday, Nov. 22 at 5 p.m. at Trumbull High School.
Below is a summary of the first three discussions.
Bob Laska, former president and publisher of the Connecticut Post, served as moderator of a group that included Newtown Police Chief Michael Kehoe, set to retire in January after a 37-year career in law enforcement; Trumbull Police Chief Michael Lombardo, a 33-year veteran of the Wilton Police force before his Trumbull appointment in 2014; and Connecticut State Police Lt. Anthony Schirillo, an FBI graduate and trooper for 31 years.
Laska noted that civility in law enforcement is particularly important in light of some of the recent situations across the country, such as the teen shooting by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., that sparked riots. In that context, Laska asked the group to define civility in public safety. “We need to be more than polite in light of our diversities, and go beyond that,” Kehoe said.
Officer selection and training rose to the top as key elements supporting civility. “No matter what the agency, we are all dealing with people, maybe in crisis or a victim, and we ask our officers to always try to imagine they are a family member and how would they would want them to treated,” Lombardo said.
“How could the public be more civil?” Laska asked. “They should understand that we are sometimes put in a very difficult situation, and we try to resolve and handle it as best as we can based on our experience and training,” said Kehoe.
“Sometimes people jump to a conclusion without knowing all the facts, and the media may stoke it up. If we can just step it back a little bit, it would be better for everyone,” Schirillo suggested.
“Is there a difference between urban and suburban policing?” Laska wondered. Lombardo said, “People are people wherever you go. It comes down to how you are treated. Perception is key. You could be the best officer, but if a person sees you as unprofessional, it may be a problem.”
“There needs to be a better understanding on both sides.” Schirillo pointed out, “Urban areas are more dense rather than neighbors being an acre apart, which can impact certain situations when people start to gather around a scene.”
One final hot topic was the much-talked-about body cameras for police officers. Lombardo favored them, noting, “It will be a good thing. The majority of instances show that the officer conducted himself properly. However,” he cautioned, “video may not cover every aspect of what an officer is doing.”
Todd Piro, NBC Connecticut’s morning anchor, emceed the second group, joined by David M. Walker, former U.S. comptroller general; Nancy L. Johnson, former U.S. representative of Connecticut’s fifth district 1983-2007; and John DeStefano, Jr., former mayor of New Haven 1994-2014.
Speaking about polarization in politics, Johnson remarked, “Differences within each party are natural. Conflicts are longstanding. The real question is why is it paralyzing action? Partly because of an inability to understand an opponent’s point of view. It’s terrible for our country.”
DeStafano noted, “People see compromise as not a good thing. We need to look for places to cooperate and find common ground.” Walker pointed to leadership, saying, “If you don’t have a chief executive lighting a fire under legislators, you’re not going to get things done.”
As to changes needed to our political system, Walker listed redistricting reform, primary changes, campaign finance and lobbying reform and 12-year term limits at the federal level. “What we have now is gridlock. Doing nothing is not good,” he said.
Johnson added, “People feel disenfranchised. We need to get back to legislating the way the law requires.”
Piro wondered if the media is to blame for some of the problems. “There’s an imbalance in media and in universities on how we talk about public issues,” Johnson suggested.
Walker said media is “not the problem, but part of the problem” and that keeping comments to sound bites doesn’t help. He also thought that people are following news sources that lean to one view or another, which gives them only one side of a story.
“What’s social media’s impact on civility in politics?” Piro asked. “I love social media. People organize around an issue, it sustains connections and keeps them engaged,” said DeStefano.
Walker opined, “It has a significant net positive except when you have people on there anonymously speaking out without accountability.”
Looking down the line five years, Johnson said, “I think we will knock down some of the barriers, and the federal government and people will be closer.”
The presentation was moderated by George Colli, an investigative reporter for NBC Connecticut News, and featured guests Al Terzi, a media veteran who hosts Fox CT’s political issues program The Real Story, and Christine Stuart, editor-in-chief of CTNewsJunkie.com.
Colli began the talk by turning back the clock, asking how the media business has changed over time. Terzi, who has worked in journalism in Connecticut all but two years since 1968 after a stint in the air force as a communications intelligence officer in countries like China and Korea, reflected, “We wore a coat and tie every day. The video we showed was on film that had to be physically cut. We were basically news readers, reading from typed scripts. Teleprompters were rolled by hand. News came in through teletype machines. We gave five minutes of weather, 10 minutes of sports and 15 minutes of local news.” Observing the business today, he said, “We didn’t have breaking news…now everything is breaking news. And now people are getting news online and through blogs. Often, broadcasters have their own agendas or say outrageous things. It seems people want to be entertained—to see heat not light.”
Stuart, 38, recalls a more updated newsroom setting, though news items were still paste-ups to boards and there was no Twitter or Facebook when she bought her site in 2006. “People today need to decide what’s a good source of news and what’s not and if they should trust the service or reporter. There’s a code of ethics and not everyone follows it,” she said. She also noted that since 2008, there’s been a loss of more than 30,000 news reporting jobs in the U.S.
Asked about social media’s impact and if it puts pressure on a journalist to push out a story, Stuart said, “I try not to feel that pressure. I try to be places where there are stories that aren’t being told.”
Colli added, “A rule at NBC is ‘do not report anything you don’t hear or see right in front of you.’”
Zeroing in on civility, Colli queried fellow journalists about stories that rose to the top and how they learned to be human during a horrible time. Stuart said, “When you approach the family of someone who has passed, sometimes they share the story and it’s appreciated; other times they don’t, and that’s ok. The families often do come forward; sometimes you just have to give them time.”
Terzi recalled a specific incident—an Air Florida flight that crashed into the Potomac River, killing 78 people. “There was one family from Canton, Ohio, that didn’t survive, and I was asked to cover the funeral. There were four caskets—two adults, two children. I paid my respects, waited outside and met up with my photographer. We asked an uncle if there was anything he would like to say. He was very kind, but said nobody was ready to talk. I called my news director to tell him we couldn’t do the story. He was mad, but relented. We went with video footage and a voiceover.”
Colli focused on reporting ethics, offering that American standards are very high. “International media is not so. At the Newtown shootings, there were reporters hiding in trees and wanting to take photos in the morgue. Connecticut media handled the situation with class. We had enough stories to tell without harassing the families,” he said. Terzi made the point that, as local citizens, “We have an investment in the community, so we approach situations with an extra measure of care.”
A written question from an audience member asked why people in public service find media objectionable. Colli proposed, “Some media feel like they have to go for the kill every day. You don’t have to be contentious. There’s a question and an answer.”
Another audience member asked how these journalists find their stories. Stuart said, “A call, email, you see something on social media, state databases.”
“Every person you meet is a potential source. And everything you see could be a story,” Colli said.