Magazine article Tikkun

Letters to the Editor

Magazine article Tikkun

Letters to the Editor

Article excerpt

Public Journalism

To the Editor:

Jay Rosen's "Public journalism" (November/December 1999) beckons the reader to jump aboard and join what he calls the "breakaway church" of journalism.

After nearly half a century of critically observing the media, both its accomplishments and its shortcomings, this writer, a believer in TIKKUN and its message, finds that the public will be ill-served by this siren call.

The threat of public journalism lies not in any specific activity or enterprise, but in bestowing upon journalism a new role that very likely would invalidate journalism as a detached but critical observer. Public journalism invites journalists to become actors, participants, instigators, and torchbearers.

Advocates of public journalism urge journalists to jump into the fray by proposing alternative solutions to civic and social problems. This, they hope, will activate the public, reinvigorate democracy, and promote civic progress.

Who is then left to evaluate? When journalists become part of the show, it lowers their credibility; newspapers become house organs for special interests.

When we talk about journalism, we are not only referring to some idealistic young editor who wants to leave a mark on his community, but also to moguls such as Rupert Murdoch and Conrad Black, who have their own agenda to promote.

We cannot trust media conglomerates to advance ideas or solutions that contravene their own commercial or ideological interests.

No one doubts the good intentions of the advocates of public journalism, but whenever journalists have a personal stake, be it ideological, political, commercial, or whatever, the line that separates good journalism from public journalism is broached. For years we have asserted that no human endeavor, including reporting, can ever be objective. That awareness should discipline reporters. But that is a long way from abandoning all attempts to strive for objectivity.

While public journalism's stated intent is to regain public trust in the media, the actual result will intensify distrust. If the media prepare the blueprint, engage the actors, become an active part of the civic process, and invite the public to choose from a prepared scenario, how can we ever trust the media to report on the process the media has concocted in the first place? No, thank you.




St. Louis, MO

Jay Rosen responds:

I believe there are at least two legitimate journalisms "out there." Not one.

To oversimplify, there's public or "civic" journalism, which I wrote about. Then there's the traditional variety it departs from. Charles Klotzer rises in defense of what he regards as the best tradition in the American press, I salute him for it. Meanwhile, some journalists I know have worked out a variation, which they and I believe to be valuable, ethically sound, and worth trying.

There is an argument to be had about the wisdom of the civic turn in journalism. It is by nature a highly debatable thing. But there is no arguing with the fact that a turn has been taken by serious, dedicated, mainstream American journalists.

They decided that trying to cultivate a better discussion does not inevitably lead you to dominate that discussion; trying to see more clearly the community's path to resolution doesn't disqualify you from tracking the community's problems; trying to engage people in public life doesn't have to mean a takeover by journalists.

Aware of the dangers involved-not as theories but as facts on the ground-they take what precautions seem necessary to remain on the right side of truth, fairness, and public trust.

These precautions do not convince Klotzer, and he speaks for much of his tribe there. Curiously, those who call themselves public journalists have persisted. …

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