Public Journalism

After an entire book showing the disappointing aspects of what effects we are seeing in our society from journalism it was bittsweet to read about the push toward a more constructive approach to journalism called public journalism. (The bitter being that this was written in the mid 1990’s and things seem no better – if not worse – now than they were then.) The essence of public journalism is encapsulated in the idea that the media organizations embrace the reality that they are not imply observers and reporters in society, but also participants. It is the admission that what they do matters and makes a difference. The controversy come through differing views on what it means to participate positively. Those who misunderstand the idea of public journalism might easily interpret that proactive stance as meddling by the media. On the other hand, defenders of the idea view this approach as the best form of journalism because the approach is no longer apathetic about the effects that come from the reporting that they do.

Personally I can see the objections to the idea of active meddling but I feel that objection is misplaced. Even the best reporters and news organizations will have biases in what they cover and how they cover things. Most observers can see this easily, but anyone who is serious about using the news will be better able to compensate for those biases when those biases are not hidden by an exaggerated guise of objectivity. The best in journalism would acknowledge the perspective that the reporter or organization subscribes to but would also report facts that disagree with their perspective. Not only that, but they would seek to develop their perspectives in accordance with the facts that they are able to find. If they are actively seeking to make a positive impact in their community they would find it beneficial to go beyond the easy reporting and dig into the facts that are not so easily obtained.

I found the description of the efforts of various papers around the country to actively engage citizens in the process of developing public policy and exploring social issues in their areas to be encouraging. Sadly I see no evidence that those efforts have continued to develop inthe years since this was written. Perhaps that is a result of where I am, or perhaps the movement has lost its momentum. I hope it is only the first option.

2 comments for “Public Journalism

  1. February 2, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    I believe that most news organizations quite aware of their ability to influence, even if they disingenuously wear a mask of aloofness publicly. In fact, I think that some news organizations are so committed to exerting influence that they are willing to forgo growth and profits to play the game they so deeply cherish.

    But try as they might, they can’t hide their intentions from all of the people. Many understand that the charade of objectivity and apathy is little more than a thin cover for activism.

    The sad thing is that even some of the faux objective organizations offer some good reporting. Occasionally something useful slips by the gate keepers. As these organs decline, however, so do their worthwhile elements.

    It is also instructive to see what types of ‘news’ consumers are allocating their resources to. It seems to be diversifying and centralizing simultaneously. It’s difficult to see into the future and tell what news will be like 10 or 20 years from now.

  2. February 3, 2009 at 8:42 am

    I think you have helped me delineate between journalistic activism and public journalism. Journalistic activism (as you have described) is marked by an attitude of expertise on the part of the journalist or publication. They treat their job as one where they impart their wisdom to the masses. Public journalism is marked by an attitude of cooperation. They see their job as one of working with people to uncover information and facilitate the process of public decision making.

    I am very curious to see what will happen as consumers get more proactive about selecting their news sources. Personally, I find that at times I gravitate towards individual reporters for some parts of my news. For other types of news I try to cast a wide net and glean whatever value I can from the catch.

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