Craig, David A.: Excellence in Online Journalism: Exploring Current Practices in an Evolving Environment

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Craig, David A. Excellence in Online Journalism: Exploring Current Practices in an Evolving Environment. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc., 2011. Pp. xii, 179. ISBN 978-1-4129-7009-9 (paper) $45.00.

No matter how quickly the profession of journalism changes its media, journalists themselves cling to a core of values and practices, things that David Craig argues define "excellence." In his survey of excellence in online journalism Craig aims "to focus on what excellent journalism looks like in an era of rapid change in the media industry and in communication technology" (p. 1). He does not ambition a "technical manual" or a "nuts-and-bolts treatment of online work" (p. ix), choosing instead to provide a kind of inductive approach for students in a book that might well complement the traditional textbooks. Though he presents the material grouped in key concepts, he assembled it through extensive research, interviewing leading journalists who represent a variety of roles and a variety of "publications" in the online world. This feature makes the book always interesting, but another makes the book extremely valuable.

For Craig, excellence in journalism must rest on an ethics of journalism. After an introductory chapter, which more or less serves to present in outline form the rest of the book, he turns to an "ethical lens for looking at excellence." Borrowing from the work of the ethicist Alasdair MacIntyre and its application to journalism by Sandra Borden, Craig describes a "virtue ethics" that provides a groundwork for journalism. Journalism constitutes a "practice," a social context. In MacIntyre's definition:

By a "practice" I am going to mean any coherent and complex form of socially established cooperative human activity through which goals internal to that form of activity are realized in the course of trying to achieve those standards of excellence which are appropriate to, and partially definitive of, that form of activity, with the result that human powers to achieve excellence, and human conceptions of the ends and goods involved, are systematically extended. (quoted pp. 15-16)

Throughout Chapter 2 Craig takes this definition one element at a time and thereby provides a very accessible discussion of its key terms: practice, "telos" (or end), internal goods, standards of excellence, virtues, external goods, and institutions. Even for students without a background in philosophy or ethics, the concepts should remain clear and easily applicable to their future career in journalism. Then, taking up his research, he distills four standards from current online practice that will form the ethical backbone for his discussion. He turns to them in each of the subsequent chapters. The chapters follow a similar pattern: the introduction of the standard, some illustrative discussion drawn from the experience of his informants, the ethical application, and a number of examples of what he means.

Chapter 3 presents the first standard: "speed and accuracy with depth in breaking news" (p. 25). No surprise here, but Craig situates this value of journalism in the ways in which different media interpret it. …