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.