News Media Seek Credibility Journalistic Groups Hope to Redeem Views of the Press in Projects Launched This Fall

Article excerpt

Lynele Jones used to force herself to keep up with the news. A single mother in Colorado, she sees it as an important part of being a citizen. But now she doesn't make so much of an effort. Not because she's any less civic-minded. It's the news that's changed.

"I just don't think very much of what's covered is worth bringing up in conversations with my friends," says Ms. Jones.

She is not alone. The American media are in the midst of a credibility crisis. Buffeted by the bottom line and fierce competition, newsmakers have become more desperate than ever to keep the public's attention. The result: more grab-you-by-lapels, sensational coverage of crime and malfeasance, delivered with just a hint of cynicism. The public's response? Newspaper circulation continues to decline or stay flat. Network news audiences are still plummeting. Alarms about the deteriorating state of the press have been raised for more than a decade. And journalists around the country have nodded in agreement. Nonetheless, the problem is only getting worse. But that may be about to change. "I operate on the theory that the situation is bad, but redeemable," says Marvin Kalb, executive director of the Shorenstein Center for Press, Politics and Public Policy. "It has to be. Otherwise, in one way or another, the government is going to begin to move in on the problem." That concern has finally struck at the heart of the industry. This fall, at least four journalistic organizations are launching major studies and projects designed to redeem the press in the eyes of the public. Their goal: to find out why reporters are drifting more and more from their core values of reporting fairly, accurately, and succinctly. They also want to open a dialogue between the press and the people. Such efforts are not new, but the breadth and depth of the projects, most undertaken by journalists themselves, mark a turning point. "The sense of concern, and maybe even lost purpose, within journalism has reached a critical mass," says Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, a joint effort by Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and the Pew Center for Civic Journalism. The project is aimed at giving journalists tangible tools to regain their essential mission - giving the public the information it needs to navigate in a democratic society. Mr. Rosenstiel admits that with the current economic and competitive pressures, it will be a challenge. But he's concerned that the media may be in the process of self-destructing. "If we become a kind of entertainment we will perish, because genuine entertainment is always going to be more entertaining. …