High-Minded Journalism Has a Setback: But Byproduct of Monica Coverage Is Media Reinvention

By Harper, Jennifer | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 15, 1998 | Go to article overview

High-Minded Journalism Has a Setback: But Byproduct of Monica Coverage Is Media Reinvention


Harper, Jennifer, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Did civic journalism get lost in Monica madness this year?

For those who can't recall, civic journalism is based around the high-minded idea that news organizations should offer informative, constructive stories that improve the public spirit and the community alike.

It was the talk of media Mudville a few years back, and a basic tenet in James Fallows' 1996 book, "Breaking the News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy."

Cynical journalists, Mr. Fallows wrote, had deserted the "real needs" of people for cheap shots and quick hits, overlooking that public "desire for information to have meaning."

Another group called it "hope journalism." The Vermont-based American News Service offered stories they described as "constructive, solution-oriented," meant to "inform, intrigue and inspire."

There was little room for such in factoid-driven, poll-happy coverage of the Monica Lewinsky case, it would seem. The accelerated news cycle and rehashed drivel superceded much public-mindedness.

"We must have royally fouled up," Sandy Rowe, president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, said earlier this year, "leading newsrooms in a time of frighteningly low respect for the newspapers we hold dear."

Civic journalism, though, did not disappear altogether this year. A form of it was an inadvertent byproduct in a reinvented media.

The eight months of White House scandal coverage created a new breed of news "consumer" - readers and viewers who began to realize the impact the media had on their families and communities.

Public discussion groups erupted over character issues, privacy and propriety. "How do we tell our children about Monica?" asked countless parents.

The scandal forced many people to address the media, their shortcomings and the difference between true content and the entertainment value of the story itself. …

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