Those Who Do Understand 'Public Journalism.'

St. Louis Journalism Review, December-January 1997 | Go to article overview

Those Who Do Understand 'Public Journalism.'


In an attempt to clarify what public journalism is all about, what follows is an alphabetical listing of some noted advocates of public journalism and a brief description of some of their own observations on this movement in 1990's journalism.

At the outset, SJR concedes that this is an incomplete listing of public journalism's many advocates. Also a few sentences on their observations can hardly do justice to the thinking that each has committed to the idea of public journalism.

This compendium is simply offered as a starting-off point for those interested in making "the intellectual journey" required for understanding or doing public journalism.

Rob Anderson

Professor Rob Anderson of St. Louis University has collaborated with professors Robert Dardenne of the University of South Florida and George Killenberg, also of South Florida, to write: "The Conversation of Journalism: Communication, Community, and News."

Anderson argues that journalism is broken and that something must be done before newspapers become superfluous in public life. Anderson and his colleagues advocate "a particular kind of public journalism that is faithful to one of our oldest social structures, the commons. Instead of a bundle of news reports, the newspaper becomes - like a town commons - a site for public dialogue shared by all citizens and accessible to all citizens."

Lisa Austin

Lisa Austin, a research director for the Project on Public Life and the Press, contends that journalists have played a role in the deterioration of public life. They have done this by failing to see story subjects as citizens. A new, alternative coverage is required.

"Alternative coverage begins to encompass new sources, group interviews, or a broad source base such as an interview pool of poll respondents..." declares Austin. "Instead of seeing a citizen they are interviewing as merely a "good quote," "a reader," or "some idiot," it is possible for a journalist to recognize times when sources step out of themselves and weigh their own interests against the needs of the community."

Jay Black

Jay Black has spoken favorably on the impact of the public journalism movement at the annual convention panel session of the Association of Educators in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC). Black has put together a useful collection of perspectives on public journalism with his book: "Mixed News: The Public/Civic/Communitarian Journalism Debate."

Black, who holds the Poynter-Jamison chair in media ethics at the University of South Florida, offers an extended annotated bibliography of books, monographs, academic and trade articles on public journalism at the conclusion of his book, "Mixed News."

Cole Campbell

Cole Campbell, editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, has often been cited as one of the key practitioners of public journalism, primarily because of his previous work at The Norfolk Virginian-Pilot. Campbell often takes aim at two criteria of what makes news under traditional journalism: novelty and conflict.

"For too long our standard of news has been novelty; what's new or different or unusual or deviant, and not, in fact, information that helps people solve problems ..." insists Campbell. "We need to help people take the information that they already have access to, and fertilize it, and develop it so they can begin to really pick some bouquets, and pick some things that they can eat; help people understand the meaning of what's happening in the world rather than simply telling them: 'Here's the latest bulletin.'"

James Carey

James Carey, author and professor in the graduate school of journalism at Columbia University, has written much about the ideal of public life. He notes that public life can be described as vital and viable when citizens are involved with their communities, when citizens are engaged in public conversation about improving their communities, and when citizens share a hopefulness that they can make a difference in the direction their communities take. …

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