Lynele Jones used to force herself to keep up with the news. A
single mother in Colorado, she sees it as an important part of
being a citizen. But now she doesn't make so much of an effort. Not
because she's any less civic-minded. It's the news that's changed.
"I just don't think very much of what's covered is worth
bringing up in conversations with my friends," says Ms. Jones.
She is not alone. The American media are in the midst of a
credibility crisis. Buffeted by the bottom line and fierce
competition, newsmakers have become more desperate than ever to
keep the public's attention. The result: more grab-you-by-lapels,
sensational coverage of crime and malfeasance, delivered with just
a hint of cynicism. The public's response? Newspaper circulation
continues to decline or stay flat. Network news audiences are still
Alarms about the deteriorating state of the press have been
raised for more than a decade. And journalists around the country
have nodded in agreement. Nonetheless, the problem is only getting
But that may be about to change.
"I operate on the theory that the situation is bad, but
redeemable," says Marvin Kalb, executive director of the
Shorenstein Center for Press, Politics and Public Policy. "It has
to be. Otherwise, in one way or another, the government is going to
begin to move in on the problem."
That concern has finally struck at the heart of the industry.
This fall, at least four journalistic organizations are launching
major studies and projects designed to redeem the press in the eyes
of the public. Their goal: to find out why reporters are drifting
more and more from their core values of reporting fairly,
accurately, and succinctly. They also want to open a dialogue
between the press and the people.
Such efforts are not new, but the breadth and depth of the
projects, most undertaken by journalists themselves, mark a turning
point. "The sense of concern, and maybe even lost purpose, within
journalism has reached a critical mass," says Tom Rosenstiel,
director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, a joint
effort by Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism and
the Pew Center for Civic Journalism.
The project is aimed at giving journalists tangible tools to
regain their essential mission - giving the public the information
it needs to navigate in a democratic society.
Mr. Rosenstiel admits that with the current economic and
competitive pressures, it will be a challenge. But he's concerned
that the media may be in the process of self-destructing. "If we
become a kind of entertainment we will perish, because genuine
entertainment is always going to be more entertaining. …