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Chris Krug, pres­ident of Franklin Center of Public Integrity and Gov­ernment, gave a
pre­sen­tation on campus cov­ering watchdog
jour­nalism. | Twitter

Pres­ident of Franklin Center of Public Integrity & Gov­ernment and Watchdog.org, Chris Krug came to speak to stu­dents on campus last Tuesday, Oct. 2 about the role of watchdog jour­nalism. Through the use of watchdog jour­nalism, the Franklin Center and Watchdog.org keep gov­ernment offi­cials accountable for their actions and state­ments, pro­viding tax­payers and local cit­izens with under­standable news cov­erage. Krug has worked in jour­nalism for nearly 20 years, serving as a pub­lisher and general manager at the Illinois News Network, exec­utive editor at the Northwest Herald, and pub­lisher for the Pioneer Press papers in the Chicago Sun-Times, along with expe­rience in inter­na­tional business.

The Franklin Center for gov­ernment & Public Integrity is “ded­i­cated to the prin­ciples of trans­parency, account­ability, and fiscal respon­si­bility.” How are each of these prin­ciples important to society today?

At the Franklin Center we are state-focused jour­nalism and are inter­ested in what happens on the state level in the leg­is­lature. We’re non-political, non-par­tisan. We tackle stories from the per­spective of the tax­payer and how tax­payers’ money is being spent. We talk to Repub­licans, we talk to Democrats, so we talk to both sides. Our focus is dif­ferent than other outlets.

What does Watchdog.org do?

We are solely focused on inves­tigative work. As I’ve taken over as Pres­ident of the Franklin Center, in the past fifteen months, I’ve tried to change the way that we do the work that we do, without changing the space where Watchdog had been most effective. Watchdog used to focus on long-form stories and deeper inves­tigative work, but our interest is in the dailies and pro­viding excellent State House and statewide news cov­erage. We want to convey stories in very straight forward English, because what happens in gov­ernment should not be solely for those who have a dic­tionary or the­saurus at the ready. There’s too much focus on jargon and mechanics, without explaining mechanics, and we want to make news acces­sible.

How does Watchdog share its sources and back-up its facts, espe­cially in a gen­er­ation of young people who “regur­gitate” facts?

The Pew Center came out with study that 1 out of 4 could tell the dif­ference between straight news and opinion. What we attempt to do and feel is important is to talk to the people making the news or having a direct impact on the news, not simply to speak to experts around the corners or the edges of the news. We talk to leg­is­lators in general assem­blies across the United States to under­stand why they feel a certain way that they do about an issue.

Is it pos­sible to be non-par­tisan in today’s political climate?

The word ‘par­tisan’ and the word ‘political’ are often used as syn­onyms, and they’re not. We’re non-par­tisan, but we’re also non-political. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a certain point of view. The point of view that we focus on is, “What is the impact of the news on tax­payers?” These are the viewers we try to reach. We do not endorse political can­di­dates. We just give the infor­mation required in order for the people to make the best deci­sions.

With your back­ground in pub­lishing at the Illinois News Network, as exec­utive editor at the Northwest Herald, and pub­lisher for Pioneer Press in the Chicago Sun-Times Media Group, how did it prepare you for the skills needed for the Franklin Center?

I came up in this business as a reporter, so I was one of those people who while I was writing, I was also man­aging at a younger age in the industry. I got into man­agement full-time almost imme­di­ately, and have been in man­agement the entire time. Being a jour­nalist is com­mitting to a life of con­tinuous improvement. I took on more and more respon­si­bility and rose through the ranks. I started as a reporter, became a copy editor, and then became an assistant sport editor, then a sports editor, then I became an editor. I left sports for news, because after 9/11, I felt that there are more important things than sports. I have the utmost respect for sports­writers but for me there had to be more than winning. There had to be more to be said.

Tell me about your new col­lab­o­rative project Medi­aWise, with Poynter, Stanford History Edu­cation Group, Local Media Asso­ci­ation for Media Lit­eracy Edu­cation, and Google Inc.

The idea behind Medi­aWise is to address a known problem among the next gen­er­ation of news con­sumers. The problem is that there is a sig­nif­icant gap between civic online lit­eracy and the ability for people to read stories, and it’s poten­tially dam­aging to the future of our country to have such mis­in­for­mation. What we have learned from the great people at Stanford, Poynter, and Google is that if left unchecked, this gen­er­ation of teens and tweens is going to con­tinue on the path that is not dis­similar to the adults who can’t tell between a news story and an opinion.

Medi­aWise is an ini­tiative with local news­papers and new outlets, to host public events where we arm kids with the skills, tactics, tech­niques, and tools to better fact-check the news that they’re con­suming before they pass it on. This project is going to run until the end of next year. Ideally, we would like to reach a million kids between the ages of 12 to 19. We want to reach diversity in socioe­co­nomics, so we’re not just cre­ating this for sub­urban groups or those with great access to the Internet. We want this to be all-encom­passing, and want 50% of the people we touch to be those that may have less access to those resources that would help them better scru­tinize the news. It’s important that everyone par­tic­i­pates in a mean­ingful, honest, and truthful under­standing of the news.