By Annya Loya / New Mexico News Port
Journalist and civic educator Alexander Heffner visited The University of New Mexico April 8 to host a public discussion on “Civil Discourse in an Uncivil Age”.
Heffner, the host of the PBS show The Open Mind, recently presented at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Johns Hopkins University.
Well-informed discourse is essential to civic life and it’s important that we encourage it but social media dynamics, misinformation and disinformation threaten that discourse he said during what was only his second in-person presentation since the beginning of the pandemic.
Heffner said his goal with the tour is to engage young people on the issues that matter right now.
Having a free, open, ethical, morally centered conversation requires a fact-based, morally centered conversation, and that can be a challenge. But despite insincere forces pushing disinformation, Heffner fully supports free and open speech.
“I think my point is that we have to recognize the infrastructure necessary to preserve that free and open discussion,” Heffner said.
Heffner reminded student journalists to have a constructive impact on their community and not force themselves to take on a position or mentality they don’t believe in.
“Think about how we can be a constructive force for good and not get trapped in that mentality that we are just transcribing what’s happening around us without any liberty, or urgency to help make things better,” Heffner said.
Undergraduate student Andrew J. Schumann was left impressed with Heffner’s ability to analyze the complex state of political deliberation today and inspired by his efforts to stress that a more civil future is still possible.
“In a time when political incivility seems ubiquitous, Alexander Heffner articulately pointed out how bigotry, disfunction, and obstructionism are infecting our national discourse,” Schumann said.
When the presentation reached the topic of the influence social media has on discourse, Heffner emphasized the magnitude of responsibility platforms and companies have versus individuals’ responsibility of being properly informed and prepared for discourse.
“The responsibility is always multiplied by the magnitude of the audience,” which could be millions or billions of people, Heffner said. “It’s not about the nature of the responsibility. It’s about the volume of the responsibility.”
Communication and Journalism Department Chair David Weiss praised Heffner as well-educated, bold and a great speaker.
“I just thought it was wonderful,” Weiss said. “I love that he also does brighten everything from history issues to philosophy to taxes.”
Weiss said the presentation was a good opportunity for students to see how journalism brings important issues to the forefront.
The craft of journalism reinforces the fact-based basis of our communication and helps preserve the health of our democracy, Heffner said.
Annya Loya is a reporter for New Mexico News Port and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.