Values and Craft of American Journalism: Essays from the Poynter Institute/Newsthinking: The Secret of Making Your Facts Fall into Place

Article excerpt

Books * Clark, Roy Peter, and Campbell, Cole C., eds. (2002). Values and Craft of American Journalism: Essays from The Poynter Institute. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, pp. 200.

* Baker, Bob (2002). Newsthinking: The Secret of Making Your Facts Fall Into Place. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, pp. 175.

For almost two years now we have offered a different kind of review section, giving reviewers the chance to write essays about groups of books. With each issue I believe the section has become stronger, as authors get into the flow of writing about the ideas in the books, rather than limiting themselves to checking off laundry lists of tables of contents. In this issue we offer an engaging set of essays. The first two address head-on some of the important issues facing journalism as well as journalism education in this new century. Sports, audiences, and crime round out the section. All of these pieces make for good reading, and thanks to the writer/reviewers for making editing an easy task.


University of Texas at Austin

On March 17, 2001, Jay T. Harris resigned as publisher of the San Jose Mercury News rather than impose staffing cuts demanded by the Knight Ridder parent corporation to maintain profits.

Harris did not leave a tabloid. He walked out on one of the most distinguished newspapers in the country and one of the most enlightened ownerships. "I had lived as long as I should or could with a slowly widening gap between creed and deed," he told the American Society of Newspaper Editors three weeks later. "I knew that morning that I wanted to go no farther down a road leading away from all I thought was best and most important about being a newspaper publisher and a journalist."

Harris's act of conscience was not only a message to newsrooms, but to journalism classrooms as well. Harris confirmed the widespread suspicion that corporate pressure to sustain profits was squeezing out the quality of journalism. If so, the challenge was obvious to journalism education: What should we teach in journalism school? And why bother?

In this unsettled situation comes Values and Craft of American Journalism: Essays from The Poynter Institute. James M. Naughton, president of the Poynter Institute and former New York Times correspondent, writing in the foreword, says he was inspired by Harris' example of courage. Naughton writes, "Journalism's enduring value is a medium not of commerce but of self-government." But he notes that the media conglomerates that control journalism don't care about news "except as a commodity for profit and growth." Naughton and the Poynter crew do not despair. "Keep the faith. Strive for excellence. Fight for the right," the Poynter president writes.

By most measures, American journalism has been supremely successful. It's the dominant mass information model for the world. Free of government control, its reliance on factual reporting, investigation, and ethical behavior makes it an effective watchdog safeguarding the rights of citizens.

But despite the apparent success of the U.S. media industry, a deep-seated feeling persists that something is just not right. The very economic robustness of the business has proved to be its greatest enemy. The quest for bigger profits and bigger audiences has profoundly affected the way news is gathered; reported; and, importantly, marketed.

In view of this reality, the role of journalism education has also come into question. Do we turn out critics or handmaidens?

Columbia University President Lee Bollinger last year suspended a search for a new dean at the Graduate School of Journalism in Morningside Heights and appointed a thirty-member task force to determine the school's future and "what and how future journalists should be taught." To many journalism educators, this was the punch in the stomach after the slap in the face. …


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