Journalists Uniting to Take Action

By Winship, Thomas | Editor & Publisher, May 17, 1997 | Go to article overview

Journalists Uniting to Take Action


Winship, Thomas, Editor & Publisher


Who says the press doesn't police itself? We shall soon see.

For we are about to face an avalanche of inquiries, soul searching the way the press does business. It will not come from politicians, front office spies, or academics, but from the respected pooh-bahs of print TV and radio. The interrogators are well financed, and in the advanced stages of planning.

This simultaneous orgy of self examination obviously was triggered by many years of public pummeling of the press, plus recent polls that show the public's faith in the print press had dropped dramatically, even lower than the public's faith in television.

The many revivalists and their tentative plans are:

* The American Society of Newspaper Editors, with hopes of $1 million from the McCormick Foundation, is gearing up to launch a 3-year, in-depth study to better understand credibility, plus a rededication to the serious press, core values, standards and practices of print journalism.

ASNE sees its own new initiative as a natural follow-up of its 1996-97 "Values and Ethics" study. Maxwell King, editor of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and ASNE Values and Ethics Committee chair, will be the ASNE's point man on the study. Start up time will be any week now.

Sandra Rowe, editor of the Portland Oregonian, and this year's ASNE president, is encouraging ASNE to play a coordinating role with all the various inquiries, which have the potential to fly off in all directions.

"I'm scared to death. I'm in this essentially to make sure we are all rowing in the same direction and are not spending money needlessly or overlapping on goals," said Rowe, an able media manager if there ever was one.

To that end, Sandy Rowe and other officers brought representatives of most of the potential foundation funders together in Chicago on April 29. They included McCormick, Pew, Poynter, Knight, Freedom Forum and NAA foundations.

On June 21, Bill Kovach, curator of the Nieman Foundation, end Tom Rosenstiel of the Pew Foundation, are convening in Cambridge a group of the country's newsroom heavyweights to refine goals and consider what other organizations are planning.

* The Project for Excellence in Journalism is the most far-reaching of the emerging media reform efforts. It was fashioned by former Los Angeles Times media critic Tom Rosenstiel. For this undertaking, he has received heavy input from Eugene Roberts (New York Times), Bill Kovach and Tom Goldstein (Columbia School of Journalism). Rosenstiel hopes about $4.6 million will flow from the Pew Foundation to underwrite their multipronged project.

Rosenstiel sees his enterprise as different from other media reform efforts in three respects.

1 "It does not focus on the already identified press's problems, but on creating initiatives with ongoing practical impact on newsrooms.

2 "This is not a quasi-academic enterprise but an initiative by and for journalists.

3 "It will focus on standards of quality in an effort to stem the drift toward infotainment, cynicism and incompetence. The project's planned scope is massive."

Those are Rosenstiel's words.

The project begins with the creation of an ever-growing coalition of serious newspeople brought together in late June by Kovach and Rosensfiel. They see it as an"intellectual roadblock."

This consortium plans a series of forums or hearings around the country, a traveling Hutchins Commission, to "take testimony from local journalists and the public."

A subsequent report will be issued citing examples of the best -- and worst -- practices in use by working journalists.

Local television will not be spared. Television in several cities will be monitored and rated by TV news professions. The results are ticketed to appear in major reports annually in the Columbia Journalism Review.

The project also plans to turn its spotlight on major local newspapers including, perhaps, a special look at certain newspaper chains. …

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