Magazine article Editor & Publisher

A Call for Action

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

A Call for Action

Article excerpt

Bring back the Hutchins Commission! (Or its cybercounterpart)

At the close of a recent University of Maryland round-table discussion on journalism reform, a sense of frustration settled over the room. The day had been marked by an earnest discussion among representatives of several professional groups concerned with the current state of American journalism and the serious malaise that permeates newsrooms across the country.

There were many expressions of concern for the low status of all news media with the broad American public. After all, any institution whose measured esteem is only slightly above the status of health maintenance organizations (HMOs) should be worried. Naturally, each organization represented at the meeting was attacking the need for reform from its own perspective.

As the day ended, however, it was Gene Roberts - great reporter and editor, University of Maryland professor, and organizer of the comprehensive study on "The State of American Newspaper" - who asked the pregnant question: Where in these meetings are the owners and managers of the news media? In paraphrase, why do we not hear of any concern for reform from the boards and counting rooms of the ever- growing communications companies?

One answer is that as the companies grow larger and more complicated, the distance from newsroom to boardroom stretches beyond reach and sight. There is a sense that the earnest efforts of the amorphous reform movement have rung no bells where the big decision-makers dwell. Professors, newsroom editors, reporters, and concerned citizens can talk as long as they want without penetrating the executive suites.

Not that the individual efforts are wasted. No, the seminars, workshops and discussions that radio, TV, and newspaper journalists are engaged in are important for helping individual reporters and editors perform their crafts in more skilled and effective ways. Our Committee on the Future of Journalism, made up of members of The Newspaper Guild-CWA, has supported many such meetings, especially those organized by the Committee of Concerned Journalists.

We are particularly impressed with the potential value of "A Statement of Shared Purpose," recently circulated among CCJ members and others interested in reform. Behind all of the reform exercises, there is more practical research about attitudes within the industry and among the public than at any previous time in our history.

Still, this good work is not resonating at the high levels of our industry where decisions and commitments will have to be made to restore confidence among working journalists and to begin to regain public understanding and support in the work we do. …

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