Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Watch Dogs Need Closer Watching

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Watch Dogs Need Closer Watching

Article excerpt

It's a strange thing about journalism: Many, probably most non- journalists say they distrust the news media. Yet most of what those same non-journalists believe about their county, state, nation, and other nations comes from - you guessed it - the news media.

Put another way, people who are part of an event often complain that the journalists got the coverage wrong. Yet, when they read about distant events, those same people often accept the accounts unquestioningly, sharing their mediated knowledge at the water cooler or the dinner table as gospel truth.

Such a complicated love-hate, trust-distrust relationship involving journalists and their audiences could have hopelessly complicated a book trying to appeal to both camps. Yet Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel have managed to write a brief book with valuable, fresh lessons for news disseminators and news consumers.

Kovach is known inside journalism for his career at The New York Times and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, followed by his directorship of the mid-career educational program for journalists run by Harvard University. Rosenstiel is known inside journalism for the media criticism he published while employed by the Los Angeles Times. Today, they plant the seeds for improved reporting and editing, Kovach as chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, Rosenstiel as director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Kovach and Rosenstiel began gathering the seeds during June 1997, when they brought together 25 journalists at Harvard. All those journalists understood that huge percentages of their intended audiences thought reporters and editors cared little about the rights of individuals in the news, had lost their rightful place as societal watchdogs, and perhaps were out to undermine democracy.

Surprisingly, the journalists found themselves agreeing with the critics. As Kovach and Rosenstiel put it: "They were there because they thought something was seriously wrong with their profession. They barely recognized what they considered journalism in much of the work of their colleagues. Instead of serving a larger public interest, they worried their profession was damaging it. …

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