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What Are Journalists For?

What Are Journalists For?

Jay Rosen
Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 384
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  • Book Info
    What Are Journalists For?
    Book Description:

    American journalists in the 1990s confronted disturbing trends-an erosion of trust in the news media, weakening demand for serious news, flagging interest in politics and civic affairs, and a discouraging public climate that seemed to be getting worse. In response, some news professionals sought to breach the growing gap between press and public with an experimental approach-public journalism. This book is an account of the movement for public journalism, or civic journalism, told by Jay Rosen, one of its leading developers and defenders. Rosen recalls the events that led to the movement's founding and gives a range of examples of how public journalism is practiced in American newsrooms. He traces the intellectual roots of the movement and shows how journalism can be made vital again by rethinking exactly what journalists are for.Those who have supported the cause of public journalism have focused on first principles: democracy as something we do, citizens as the ones who do it, politics as public problem-solving, and deliberation as a means to that end. Rosen tells what happened as the movement gained momentum in newsrooms around the country and in the professional culture of the press. He reviews the flood of criticism and commentary aimed at public journalism and responds to those who express alarm at the experiment. Examining the mark that the movement has made on the field, Rosen upholds public journalism not only as a way for journalists to find a renewed sense of civic purpose for their craft, but also as a way to improve civic life and strengthen democracy.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14800-8
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction: What We’re Doing Isn’t Working
    (pp. 1-16)

    Visitors to the National Press Club in Washington can find there a plaque presented on the occasion of the club’s fiftieth anniversary in 1958. Titled “The Journalists Creed,” it begins this way: “I believe in the profession of journalism. I believe that the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of their responsibility, trustees for the public; that acceptance of a lesser service than public service is a betrayal of that trust.”

    As this language suggests, journalism done the American way is no mechanical act. At its center is a professed...

  5. Part One Origins

    • 1 As Democracy Goes, So Goes the Press: The Roots of Public Journalism
      (pp. 19-55)

      I gave my first talk to journalists in 1989. The platform was the Associated Press Managing Editors convention, a yearly gathering of several hundred editors from around the country, held that year in Des Moines, Iowa. At the time I was an assistant professor of journalism with a Ph.D., but journalism as a craft was mostly foreign territory. What I knew of it came through the ideas in my dissertation, which had examined something scholars called the problem of the public. Roughly speaking, it asked whether the public of democratic theory resembled the public of actual practice, and if the...

    • 2 In Search of a Different Story: Journalists, Scholars, and the Public Square
      (pp. 56-80)

      In 1990, I sat in a seminar room at Columbia University with a dozen or so newspaper editors and social scientists. The topic of discussion was public disaffection, voter turnout, and related themes. The journalists never had a chance. All the social scientists were steeped in survey research, and they immediately took over, exchanging sophisticated interpretations of polling data as if they were panelists at an academic conference. I have a Ph.D. and took my mandatory course in statistics but had trouble following the discussion; the editors, of course, were lost. Intimidated by this blunt display of academic learning, they...

  6. Part Two Practice

    • 3 Applying Practice to Theory: Case Studies in Public Journalism
      (pp. 83-127)

      From 1994 on, I quickly learned that not everyone saw public journalism the way I did, which was fortunate for me because I had only a partial glimpse of it. There were many journalists now contributing to the idea, but it wasn’t necessarily public journalism to them—just “what we did in Tallahassee.” As I moved among these people, I made the pleasant discovery that I rarely knew what I was talking about. There was always something happening in Dayton or Portland or Norfolk that sent the notion in another direction or showed how thin my understanding of it was....

    • 4 Does It Help the Citizen Decide? The Intellectual Journey of the Virginian-Pilot
      (pp. 128-155)

      One newspaper more than any other took the idea of public journalism and moved it several stages ahead. At theVirginian-Pilot, headquartered in Norfolk, the enterprise found a home—an organization that learned how to experiment on itself. From 1994 on, thePilotfound the tools it needed: a vocabulary for sparking change, models and templates that redrew the newspaper’s place within the community, readings on democracy and civic life that applied to daily journalism, staff retreats where people could think and argue together, and a spirit of inquiry that brought this work forward into print.

      The experiment in Norfolk...

    • 5 Doing Less Harm: Public Journalism as Personal Tale
      (pp. 156-174)

      As the people who collected around our different story began to reflect on their careers and the dissatisfactions they felt, they came upon moments when their view of what they should be doing changed. These personal stories are part of the literature of public journalism. They tell of a crisis of purpose among professionals who could no longer continue on the course they were following. So they began a new course, the search for a “purpose beyond telling the news,” as Buzz Merritt wrote.¹

      Merritt’s travels began when he started to question what is perhaps the supreme value in the...

  7. Part Three Reactions

    • 6 Journalism Is What It Is: Critics React to the Experiment
      (pp. 177-206)

      “Excuse me while I run screaming from the room.”

      So wrote David Remnick, a former correspondent for theWashington Post, commenting in theNew Yorkeron the rise of public journalism. Remnick was reacting, in part, to the mission statement of theVirginian-Pilot’spublic life team, which read: “We will revitalize a democracy that has grown sick with disenchantment. We will lead the community to discover itself and act on what it has learned.”

      These were lofty sentiments, a bit overblown, perhaps. But what was it about them that drove Remnick up the proverbial wall? The reporters at thePilot...

    • 7 The New York Times and the Washington Post on Public Journalism
      (pp. 207-248)

      One Sunday in October 1993, an extraordinary article appeared in theNew York Times Magazine—extraordinary for what it said about the state of politics and journalism.

      The author was Michael Kelly, a former Washington correspondent for the paper who had covered the 1992 presidential campaign (he later moved on to theNew Yorker, then briefly became editor of theNew Republic). In theTimes Magazinepiece, his ostensible subject was David Gergen, the media adviser, pundit, and consummate insider, described as a “master of the game.” But the real subject was how something called “image” had become “the sacred...

  8. Part Four Lessons

    • 8 Design Flaw or Driver Error: The Hazards of Going Public
      (pp. 251-261)

      In his many lectures and informal talks to journalists, James Carey would try to give listeners a feel for conversation as an ethic, a way of entering into the world at a useful angle. Stealing a thought from the critic Kenneth Burke (with due credit), he would say: “Life is a conversation. When you enter it is already going on. You try to catch the drift of it. You exit before it’s over.”

      Conversation, for Carey, was simultaneously a better way to live, a better way to think, and a better metaphor for journalism. The journalists he most admired were...

    • 9 What Was Public Journalism? The Idea in Built Form
      (pp. 262-280)

      In 1982, the critic Leslie Fiedler asked “What was literature?” knowing, of course, that literature in some form would go on. In a similar spirit, we can ask what public journalism was, while recognizing that it still is—out there, under development.¹ Some initial answers, then: Public journalism took five forms.

      • First, it was anargument, a way of thinking about what the press should be doing, or, as I have termed it, a different story about journalists’ predicament and the general state of public life in America. The story went something like this:

      Journalists would do well to develop...

    • 10 Conclusion: What Are Journalists For?
      (pp. 281-300)

      The title of this book is a question we need to ask for every age: what are journalists for? It can be read in at least two ways. First, why do we need journalists? What do they do for us and what could they be doing, if they wanted to do more? Second, what do they stand for? And what are they willing to stand up for, as public-spirited professionals?

      Prevailing wisdom in the press has a reply to these questions. Journalists, in this view, give us timely information about matters of common importance; they entertain and enlighten us with...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 301-328)
  10. Index
    (pp. 329-338)