VI. Public Journalism and the International Debate over Civil Society

Article excerpt

Michael Schudson. The Good Citizen. A History of American Civic Life. New York: Free Press, 1998.

John Keane. Civil Society: Old Images, New Visions. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998.

Celestin Monga. The Anthropology of Anger: Civil Society and Democracy in Africa. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1996.

Jurgen Habermas. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Thomas Burger. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1989.

John Ehrenberg. Civil Society: The Critical History of an Idea. New York: New York University Press, 1999.

Ralf Dahrendorf. After 1989: Morals, Revolution and Civil Society. New York: St. Martin's, 1997.

G. B. Madison, The Political Economy of Civil Society and Human Rights. London: Routledge. 1998.

Benjamin R. Barber. A Place for Us: How to Make Society Civil and Democracy Strong. New York: Hill and Wang, 1998.

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Shelton A. Gunaratne. "Old Wine in a New Bottle: Public Journalism, Developmental Journalism, and Social Responsibility." In Michael E. Roloff (ed.). Communication Yearbook 21. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1998.

Richard C. Vincent, Kaarle Nordenstreng, and Michael Traber (eds.). Towards Equity in Global Communication: MacBride Update. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 1999.

James Carey's reference to the "global concentration of power and tyranny of the market" hints at a larger international context in which we might understand the public journalism debate. Does public journalism articulate any internationally shared problems? Does it address political, social, and economic dilemmas that also confront other countries? As noted above, many of public journalism's concerns seem characteristically American. The debate about citizens' loss of civility, for example, paradoxically takes place in a society with relatively little organized political violence, in which the vast majority of public opinion rests comfortably in the middle of the political spectrum. The complaints about citizens' lack of trust, growing cynicism, and apathy mask the fact that Americans continue to be more trusting and less cynical than citizens in many other countries, and can afford to be committed to volunteerism as a mode of social control. The assumption that commercial news organizations might devote themselves to the public good seems a characteristically American hope that economic power and political democracy can peacefully coexist. Finally, the fear that the U.S. is becoming "balkanized," as immigrants from Eastern Europe, Latin America, the Mideast, and Asia create new enclaves across the country, seems overwrought. The U.S., after all, nowhere finds itself flooded by the tidal waves of war refugees that overwhelm much poorer countries in Africa, Asia, or Eastern Europe.

As Michael Schudson (1998) has recently argued in his history of citizenship in the U.S., there are ample reasons for hope. He notes that the forms of citizenship have changed, in part because many of the reforms once hoped for--voting rights, minority inclusion, public education--have been accomplished. If Americans so easily discover a society in decline, it may be because they struggle against a heroic mythology of their own making. Their mythology of participatory citizenship may exaggerate the level of individual activism needed to maintain democracy. In a society with mature political and social institutions, it may be sufficient for most people to be what he calls "monitorial citizens" (p. 311).

And yet the public journalism debate in the U.S. echoes similar discussions around the world. The challenges to public life now look global rather than merely local. …