For seven years, reporters, editors, producers, news directors, and anchors around the nation have been divided by a new philosophy called public or civic journalism. At first hearing, it seems like an esoteric debate to non-journalists. But it is not.
Why? Because every citizen who cares about current events locally, nationally, and internationally is heavily dependent on newspapers, magazines, radio, and television.
So whether a particular newsroom does or does not practice public journalism matters to most members of that newsroom's audience, whether they know it or not.
Now comes Jay Rosen, the philosopher king of the public journalism movement, with a book that adores his child, but concedes the child is imperfect.
Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University, started worrying during the 1980s that the daily portrait presented by reporters and editors was harming rather than helping community togetherness. He, along with a few newsroom philosophers in places such as Wichita, Kan., and Charlotte, N.C., began asking questions: "What should journalism bring back from a public square that seems disordered, ill functioning, too empty at times, far from what citizens require? What should the press be making with its tell, and how can it help make democracy work?"
What a foreign concept in most newsrooms, where the hard-bitten journalist inhabitants usually thrive on exposing conflict rather than helping the search for goodwill among neighbors. Rosen decided he would settle for nothing less than restyling the work of journalists "so that it supported a healthier public climate."
He opens with an admission that the journalism of conflict and destruction is not working. Readers and viewers feel hopeless rather than empowered to work for change. Many civic-minded audience members view journalists as insensitive, sensationalistic, and downright destructive. …