Making Tracks for four decades

Capital News Service

LANSING — If you grew up in Michigan, might remember reading the wildlife magazine Tracks in your elementary school classroom.

Supported and written by the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC), the magazine has taught children in and outside the classroom about local wildlife and ecosystems for 40 years.

That’s long enough for editors to see the lifelong impact their work has on its readers, said Tyler Butler, the Michigan Out-of-Doors Youth Camp director, as well as half of the Tracks creative team.

“It’s a wild experience coming across parents who remember reading the publication when they were a child,” Butler said. “Often, these parents have grown into outdoor enthusiasts and natural resource conscious adults that get a reminder of their childhood when they hold one of our publications in their hands.”

Butler and Shaun McKeon, the group’s educational coordinator, create content that meets Michigan’s science education standards. Occasionally they introduce young readers to native animals they may not even know exist.

“We are happy to introduce new and unfamiliar species to our readers and even happier when our readers declare that they now have a new favorite animal,” Butler said.

Their goal is to educate children about natural resources and the Great Lakes region’s wildlife. Each issue contains a quiz and classroom activity to bring the reading to life.

“As time has gone on and kids have gotten used to different types of media, we have had to adjust the magazine,” McKeon said.

Over the years, the magazine’s style has changed to captivate young minds by including more graphics and changing from a newspaper format to a storytelling format. As a print publication, Tracks can be used to improve reading comprehension and engage kids in school districts that might not be completely digital.

The outdoor group also offers a six-day, five-night summer camp to introduce a love for the outdoors to Michigan kids.

Since 1946, MUCC has helped more than 50,000 kids learn about nature and conservation. They camp, fish, canoe, swim, hike and learn about forestry, wildlife identification and archery. Campers can also earn hunter education certificates and learn conservation practices.

The magazine can be found in elementary classrooms all over the United States and is available for an individual subscription.

Jacqueline Kelly writes for Great Lakes Echo.

Too much information? Not enough trust?

Capital News Service

LANSING — It sounds counterintuitive that most Americans claim that the “plethora of information” around us makes it increasingly difficult to be well-informed citizens.

After all, there’s a 24/7 flow of information from mainstream and legacy media – think CBS News, the Wall Street Journal, Associated Press and National Public Radio – to cable news giants Fox and CNN to reputable easy-to-access international media – BBC and the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. among them – to magazines, e-zines, blogs, alternative weekly papers, websites and Internet platforms such as Facebook, Yahoo and Google.

But by a 58 percent to 38 percent margin, that’s what our citizenry claims. In other words, most assert that having more information isn’t conducive to being informed.

Whether that makes sense or not, that’s what the new “American Views: Trust, Media and Democracy” Gallup/Knight Foundation survey found.

On the positive side, 83 percent said they felt “very knowledgeable” or “somewhat knowledgeable” about important issues facing the United States – although that figure is two points lower for Midwesterners. The national figure was 72 percent for issues facing their local communities.

We political and policy groupies may have more simpatico confederates across the country than we thought.

Thirty-one percent of those surveyed “very closely” follow news about events in Washington and political leaders. One-quarter “very closely” follows issues affecting their own communities. The comparable figures drop to 20 percent for international news, 18 percent for sports news, 16 percent for state government news and only 11 percent for business and financial news.

Not all information is created equal: equal in accuracy, equal in context, equal in credibility and equal in fairness and balance.

Half of those surveyed – down from 68 percent a generation ago – expressed confidence that they’ve got enough sources of information to separate facts from bias in news reports. Two-thirds asserted that most news media “do not do a good job of separating fact from opinion.”

How easily can the public detect the difference between information and misinformation? As for their own ability to make that type of separation, only about a quarter felt “very confident” that they themselves can identify when sources present factual news rather than opinion or commentary.

Trust the press to be impartial? Not for many.

The survey found 43 percent hold a negative view of the media, and only one-third hold a positive view. Here in the Midwest, the average score on media trust was lower than on the West and East coasts.

“Those holding favorable views are much more likely than those with unfavorable views to believe more information makes staying informed easier,” the report found.

Only 44 percent could name a news source they believe reports objectively. Among those who could do so, Republicans overwhelmingly named Fox News, while Democrats, young adults, Blacks and Hispanics were more likely to name CNN first.

TV news programs remain the most popular news sources, followed by Internet news websites.

But popularity isn’t synonymous with trust. Respondents place the greatest trust in national TV network news and in national and local newspapers.

As for “fake news,” – like beauty – it’s in the eye and mind of the beholder.

The survey used this straightforward definition: “Inaccurate information presented as an objective news story and designed to deceive people in some way.”

It then asked whether the following four situations fit that definition: knowingly portraying false information as true; journalists reporting stories before verifying all the facts and sources for accuracy; slanting stories to promote a particular viewpoint; and accurate stories that negatively depict political groups and politicians.

Here, too, the results showed partisan differences.

For example, 42 percent of Republicans but only 17 percent of Democrats said accurate stories portraying political leaders and groups in a negative light are always “fake news.” They were closer to consensus on whether knowingly presenting false information as true always constitutes “fake news”: 43 percent of Democrats, 50 percent of independents and 52 percent of Republicans.

Overall, 56 percent considered fake news to be a “very serious” threat to democracy, including two-thirds of Republicans and half of Democrats.

There are many variables in assessing the attitudes of 19,000-plus respondents. They include political leaning, education level, household income, age, race and whether someone lives in a large city, rural area or suburb. Each of those women and men has a unique combination of those and other relevant variables.

Thus statistics such as these can tell only part of the story about Americans, trust, the press and democracy – but they can teach us lessons about the critical need for journalists and news organizations “to fulfill their democratic responsibilities of informing the public and holding government leaders accountable,” as the Gallup/Knight Foundation report puts it.

And while the citizenry believe the news media still have an essential role in our democratic society, the press must strive to convince them that it’s fulfilling that responsibility.

Eric Freedman is director of Capital News Servcie. This column originally appeared in