The Two W's of Journalism: The Why and What of Public Affairs Reporting

By Davis Merritt; Maxwell McCombs | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
8

The What

Journalism recovers itself when it ceases to be a device for dealing with the problems of journalists and becomes a method, cultivated by journalists, for dealing with the problems of men.

—Paraphrase of John Dewey's famous quote about philosophers1

For 60 years, the prevailing model of public affairs journalism in the United States has been one in which reporters and editors “cover” people and events that they deem to be important or newsworthy. They write about those people and events with the aim of informing citizens about public matters. The flow is from source through journalist to citizen.Reporters and editors assume the posture of neutral observers, detached conveyors of information. Sometimes because of the complexity of events, they become analysts and interpreters, but only out of the necessity of helping people understand, not out of any admitted desire to affect the flow of events. The goal is to present information in a “journalistically objective” way—that is, fairly, honestly and accurately, with proper balance—and let citizens make of it what they will, do with it what they will, or ignore it altogether.Limiting the role to neutral observer and conduit is both compelling and convenient. It allows journalists to focus on the singular task of transmitting information and absolves them of any other responsibility. The simple, straight-line model is based on several assumptions:
That citizens are, or at least should be, intensely interested in being well-informed about public affairs and thus are eager receptors of what journalists consider important.
____________________
1
Cited in Louis Menand, “The metaphysical club” New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2001, p. 362.

-69-

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The Two W's of Journalism: The Why and What of Public Affairs Reporting
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents vii
  • About the Authors ix
  • Preface xi
  • Introduction xiii
  • Part I *
  • Chapter 1 - The Why 3
  • Suggestions for Additional Reading *
  • Chapter 2 - First Things First: Why We Have a First Amendment 9
  • Suggestions for Additional Reading *
  • Chapter 3 - Conflicting Visions of Democracy 19
  • Suggestions for Additional Reading *
  • Chapter 4 - The Evolution of Journalism 31
  • Suggestions for Additional Reading 39
  • Chapter 5 - What the Public Needs to Know 40
  • Suggestions for Additional Reading *
  • Chapter 6 - Three Publics for the News 50
  • Suggestions for Additional Reading *
  • Chapter 7 - Technology and the New Millennium 60
  • Suggestions for Additional Reading *
  • Part II *
  • Chapter 8 - The What 69
  • Chapter 9 - Sampling the News 72
  • Suggestions for Additional Reading *
  • Chapter 10 - Framing Stories and Positioning Citizens 80
  • Suggestions for Additional Reading *
  • Chapter 11 - Positioning Ourselves as Journalists 91
  • Suggestions for Additional Reading *
  • Chapter 12 - Deliberation 106
  • Suggestions for Additional Reading *
  • Chapter 13 - Elections 119
  • Suggestions for Additional Reading *
  • Chapter 14 - Polling—use and Abuse 132
  • Suggestions for Additional Reading *
  • Chapter 15 - A Map of the Future 146
  • Author Index 151
  • Subject Index 155
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