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Public Journalism: Public Interest?

By Sawzall in MLP
Tue Jul 10, 2001 at 12:39:45 AM EST
Tags: News (all tags)

In this month's article, Jeffrey A. Dvorkin , Ombudsman National Public Radio, discusses the concept of Public Journalism . While such a subject is obviously important to National Public Radio and its other public counterparts, perhaps the subject is not that far removed for this site. Most of the article is concerned with the thoughts of Davis Merritt, professor of journalism at Kansas University in Wichita. His first point seems to apply here: If it won't matter to most people after tomorrow, it's probably not worth our time today. There are plenty of outlets for what traditionally passes as news; you have a greater mission.


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Public Journalism: Public Interest? | 24 comments (19 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
What is "public journalism"? (3.83 / 6) (#3)
by khallow on Mon Jul 09, 2001 at 10:49:09 AM EST

I found this definition in the story you quote:

"Public journalism is a set of values about the craft that recognizes and acts upon the interdependence between journalism and democracy. It values the concerns of citizens over the needs of the media and political actors, and conceives of citizens as stakeholders in the democratic process rather than as merely victims, spectators or inevitable adversaries. As inherent participants in the process, we should do our work in ways that aid in the resolution of public problems by fostering broad citizen engagement..."

So "public journalism" means informing the public rather than entertaining the public. It also means that stories are selected for their value to society and reported in the finest, unbiased tradition. Did I miss anything?

I have a beef here. Are supporters of "public journalism" actually doing anything novel? It sounds more like a marketing facelift of a product (i.e., it is "new and improved!") rather than a substantial change.

heh. (4.40 / 5) (#8)
by _Quinn on Mon Jul 09, 2001 at 01:49:38 PM EST

That's the whole point -- originally there was the news, as distinct from `yellow journalism'. Now the names have been reversed -- what we call news now would be called `yellow journalism' back in the day, and public journalism news.

On the other hand, if you think Fox ten o'clock is public journalism...

Reality Maintenance Group, Silver City Construction Co., Ltd.
[ Parent ]
Crap (3.12 / 8) (#4)
by trhurler on Mon Jul 09, 2001 at 11:24:54 AM EST

I'm sorry, but this is like people who go around saying the only real news in the world is the BBC, or the only real news in the world is the WSJ, or whatever. In every single case, and "public journalism" is no exception, the question is not enduring consequence, and in every case, they pretend it is, if they say anything on the subject at all. Why? Well, you see, nobody would bother if he had to consciously realize that the crap he's being told won't matter two days from now, but on the other hand, almost nothing ever happens that will matter two days from now, when you get down to it.

What these guys do(yes, I've put up with them on occasion,) is report on things they think are important. If you want to know whether most people agree with them, ask yourself this: what are the people who are "paying" (ie, putting up with ads and so on,) for their news getting?

That's right, folks: people want shitty worthless news. Not just ignorant fucks, or guys who went to State U, either. Just about everyone, probably including you and me, wants ass-tasting news, admit it or not. Even well educated liberal soccer moms who listen to public radio in their SUVs while tooling around the burbs. Trust me on this one.

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

So what would you consider... (3.75 / 4) (#9)
by Whizard on Mon Jul 09, 2001 at 02:13:15 PM EST

...to be news that doesn't taste like ass? I've heard this rant from you before, that all news outlets suck, and I'm quite willing to agree, but I'm interested in knowing what you would consider to be a news outlet that didn't suck?

So Lawrence Lessig, John Perry Barlow, Rusty, and Prince are having dinner...
[ Parent ]
Oh, sure (4.50 / 4) (#10)
by trhurler on Mon Jul 09, 2001 at 02:50:52 PM EST

Ask me for a solution. Bastard. The conclusion I'm coming to, albeit with some discomfort, is that news doesn't really matter much. I hate to say this, but really, how many items have you seen in the paper or on TV lately that actually mattered in your life? Maybe one or two. Maybe you had some emotional reaction to a few more, just because you're a human being, even though they have nothing to do with you. But really, for all that "being informed" is hyped up, how much knowledge of world events do you really need to live your life? Practically none.

This isn't to say we should be totally ignorant of such things, but maybe entertainment-news crapola is more than good enough; that would certainly explain why there's so much of it. We just need to point out to people that it doesn't matter so damned much, so they can quit being such snooty bastards about the whole thing. I actually know people who sit around arguing and pissed off over which national network has the best news programs - that's the part I find to be most sad.

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
I will be even a worse bastard then.. (4.66 / 3) (#11)
by Sawzall on Mon Jul 09, 2001 at 03:13:06 PM EST

Why are you here? Sure, entertainment is part of it, but K5 is pretty far from Hissyfit or even that other site. There is a real effort here to provide valuable information - that is why we have the moderation system.

My point of posting the article was to ask: Do these values apply to K5 too? Should they? No one here is doing it for the profit (in economic terms, obvioulsy we do gain from participating).

[ Parent ]

K5 (4.00 / 3) (#12)
by trhurler on Mon Jul 09, 2001 at 03:23:28 PM EST

Well, I don't know about anyone else, but I'm here because I enjoy the discussion. There's not really any "news," except about k5; whatever gets posted as "news" is just MLP to CNN or some other site anyway, so why not just read the originals?

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Discussion (4.33 / 3) (#16)
by Sawzall on Mon Jul 09, 2001 at 04:59:59 PM EST

MLP being excepted, I think a great deal of what gets to the front page would be considered a good start to a item on NPR. Not in this format since it is print, but a good story here (in its whole form, including comments)contains all a good journalist needs to prepare to go find the sound and write up a script.

And those are not bad standards to aspire to here. I know that you submit here - granted you want to generate discussion, but if you really just wanted that, there are lots of flame wars out there.

Or perhaps I am just too hopefull of K5.

[ Parent ]

People want shitty news? (4.75 / 4) (#13)
by Rift on Mon Jul 09, 2001 at 03:35:47 PM EST

I think you fall into the trap of 'if it's mass-market, it's what people want'. That's just cynical tripe.

Mass-market news (or any show) is there because they get the highest percentage of viewership, not because it's what people want. Normally, it's simply what many people will tune to, but not be disgusted, bored, or offended by and tune out. Many top rated shows have 11% viewership - that is, 11% of tv's turned on were watching that show. It's not that 50% wanted it, it's that 11% didn't leave becuase it was worthless.
<brThe problem is, everyone wants something different. If you design the perfect show, you may be the only person watching it. Same for me, or anyone else. <br>
The other problem - the people who are paying for it (getting ads) are there for just that, not news. FOX has news for one reason - to get paid. Sure, some of it is to comply with community-oriented FCC regulations, but they do so only in the fashion that they get ads. They are not there simply to give important information to people in an unbiased manner - the large chunk of people who would enjoy that have by now been trained not to watch FOX; FOX doesn't want to lose the viewers who won't tune out the sensational biased fluff.

A pen is to a car what a meteor is to a _____
[ Parent ]
The only real news source... (4.75 / 4) (#15)
by PopeFelix on Mon Jul 09, 2001 at 04:25:07 PM EST

The only news source that I trust is The Onion. I know it's right, because none of the other so-called news outlets that I glance at even mention the stories that the Onion has.

You are dumb.

Post No Bills

[ Parent ]
You've gone back to posting without reading. (2.00 / 3) (#18)
by elenchos on Mon Jul 09, 2001 at 06:36:02 PM EST

What does what you wrote have to do with the article linked to in this MLP?

"Oh, like you never thought about killing your mom, ya big hypocrites." It was at that moment that I realized how small the New German Cinema community re
[ Parent ]

Have I? (3.00 / 1) (#19)
by trhurler on Mon Jul 09, 2001 at 07:01:08 PM EST

The article linked, to my admittedly somewhat journalistically untrained eyes, appears to be grandstanding about how great "public" (read: funded using the money of people who did not agree to this use,) journalism is and/or can be, disguised as a combination comparison, introduction, celebrity quote-fest, and so on. Well, it isn't, and it can't be. It is crap, just like everything else, and people should at least have the decency and courage to admit it. All it says is that people should do the same things the editorial page of my local rag claims to be doing right now, but does not do - and you will find the same value statements everywhere in the media. Everyone wants to be seen as excellent; nobody wants the hassle of doing it - and nobody can afford the loss sustained by doing it. Not even a government run station will long remain afloat if literally nobody listens. (Well, not in a democracy, anyway, which is rather amusing irony.)

For entertainment, read Buzz' comment on experts and their proper use, and most particularly about their opinions, and then consider what it is that his comments consist in.

'God dammit, your posts make me hard.' --LilDebbie

[ Parent ]
Nope, you read wrong. (3.00 / 3) (#20)
by elenchos on Mon Jul 09, 2001 at 07:54:52 PM EST

Maybe what confused you was the NPR Ombudsmun's throwaway remark about NPR being the best news anywhere. That is about as unsurprising as when Rusty says he thinks K5 is the best weblog. Maybe you were thrown by the use of the word "public" in different contexts.

Public journalism is not at all the same as public TV or NPR or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, or the BBC for that matter, although many of them do attempt (with varying success) to practice public journalism. The article you read gives a definition of public journalism:

Public journalism is a set of values about the craft that recognizes and acts upon the interdependence between journalism and democracy. It values the concerns of citizens over the needs of the media and political actors, and conceives of citizens as stakeholders in the democratic process rather than as merely victims, spectators or inevitable adversaries. As inherent participants in the process, we should do our work in ways that aid in the resolution of public problems by fostering broad citizen engagement...
Now, granted, this is hilarious in that these journalism students who we hope have spent some time learning to use their language have fallen into exaclty the same cant that afflicts the writers of corporate mission statements and vison statements, and such drivel. I really wonder why people today can't write a definition without using words like "interdependence" and "process." It sounds like something out of Total Quality Journalism, not public journalism. I expect they got a gold star for using "values" twice, and in two differnet senses.

Be that as it may, nothing here says that public journalism equates to publicly-funded journalism. What it says is that the journalist takes sides: he or she is on the side of the people, and is working for the benefit of democracy. This is a pretty radical departure from the ideal of the neutral and detached journalist, and you could criticize it on those grounds. But to take the flaws you see in NPR and say those are the flaws of public journalism is to confuse two distinct things.

Your cynicism about what the public wants is actually one of the prime motivators behind those who are attempting public journalism. The idea is to offer something more relavant and more engaging than the ususal infotainment about things that don't actually matter to the typical viewer. I think it's an intriguing idea and while I doubt if it would ever become the dominant form of journalism, escpecially since it does demand more from the audiance, some good can come out of those few attempts at practicing it.

"Oh, like you never thought about killing your mom, ya big hypocrites." It was at that moment that I realized how small the New German Cinema community re
[ Parent ]

But can the Net do it? (none / 0) (#21)
by Sawzall on Tue Jul 10, 2001 at 06:23:37 AM EST

The net is the greatest opportunity for democracy since the invention of the printing press. Speech is the cornerstone. The net offers the chance for you and I to have an interaction with the world. We have a chance to shine a light on the darkest of places - and clearly, few governments are really happy about that chance.

I am as cynical as the next guy, but we do have a golden opportunity here. Not just for us in the developed world. People are making radios that run on oil lamp power so that a village in Africa can hear something other than what their government want them to hear - they are looking for funding to make similar devices for the Net. On this site I can read things from people who are thousands of miles away - To be exposed to ideas that I would never come into contact with otherwise.

You are right in that it demands more from the audiance. And the journalist. It also demands more from us here having the discussion. To make K5 work, we have to be engaged. We ought to have a higher purpose than seeing how high our Mojo or Karma can get, or if we can troll up a flame war. Our values are often going to be in conflict. But we can function in the public journalism role here. The net has freed us from being dependent on TV or radio force-feeding us the government (or corporate) line. An individual has the chance, albeit small, to effect a change - we now own our own printing press. But a small change here can have large influences elsewhere in ways that we cannot predict. How we use this means of communication will mean the difference to our world in the future.

In the US, a small group of men cranked out some handbills that changed the world. They did see the higher calling in what they were doing - can we? Can we take back journalism for the public from the governments and the corporations (even NPR)?

[ Parent ]

Maybe. (2.50 / 2) (#23)
by elenchos on Tue Jul 10, 2001 at 05:36:54 PM EST

I think it could go either way. That cute old saying about how the 'net thinks censorship is damage and routes around it sounds nice, but it is not guranteed to be true. China could have the kind of internet their government wants, and still exploit the technology.

And we could have had all this great stuff with print, or radio, or TV. It didn't have to become a wastland, but people were lazy. So I don't know.

I have to read Freeman Dyson's "Technology and Social Change" essay (it's posted out there somewhere... I can't find it right now) and write something intelligent about it by Wednesday. So maybe by then I'll have some better ideas on this...

"Oh, like you never thought about killing your mom, ya big hypocrites." It was at that moment that I realized how small the New German Cinema community re
[ Parent ]

Some thoughts from the article to chew on (4.00 / 6) (#7)
by mami on Mon Jul 09, 2001 at 01:33:51 PM EST

- Journalism and democracy are wholly interdependent; neither can exist without the other. Remember, then, that journalism that advances democracy also advances journalism. And that indifference to or detachment from the success of democracy threatens journalism.

- If it won't matter to most people after tomorrow, it's probably not worth our time today.

- If people can't be engaged, you probably don't need to do the story.

- Always bear in mind that conflict has a purpose - a fact often lost in the heat of conflict. That purpose is resolution. ... There are people and institutions that have a vested interest in non-resolution; in the perpetuation of conflict. Try not to rely upon them as sources

- Use experts properly. That is, use them to help listeners to understand the facts of an issue. But do not let experts frame the issue - that's your job as a journalist - or say what should happen. As experts, they have very firm and not necessarily helpful opinions.

- And finally, talk constantly about your guiding principles - among yourselves, of course, because that's where the learning comes in. But also talk about them on the air. Make clear what values you are operating under and why you do what you do. That's one reason it's called "public journalism" - we are public about our values. ... and therefore vulnerable.

I think it would be helpful to explain how NPR operates and is financed and also how it differs from CSPAN radio for example.

You think that a journalist would check his facts (3.66 / 3) (#14)
by hackboy on Mon Jul 09, 2001 at 03:48:28 PM EST

The Univiersity of Kansas is in Lawrence (about 150 miles away from Wichita.) Merritt used to be the editor of the Wichta Eagle, but he retired a couple years ago.

journalistic bias (none / 0) (#22)
by akp on Tue Jul 10, 2001 at 01:43:31 PM EST

I'm going to take this opportunity to address one of the comments made at the end of the article. In response to Merritt's statements, the author says:

<it>One issue that I find troubling is the unstated premise to advocacy that might be permissible by public journalism. Would public journalism increase public radio's vulnerability to accusations of bias?</it>

I think this 'accusation of bias' is one of the single biggest factors inhibiting effective journalism today (at least in the U.S.). First of all, it's practically impossible to report without bias. Whatever method of reporting that you use is your bias. If you're just going to print what a person (or what two people) say, without providing any other analysis, then that's your bias. It may be a non-partisan bias, but it's a bias nonetheless.

Unfortunately, it seems that many news organizations have mistaken this non-partisan (or, perhaps more correctly, bi-partisan, since American politcal news coverage usually shows just the Democrat and Republican viewpoints) slant for 'unbiased reporting'. As a result, honest analysis of the news is practically nonexistant except on editorial pages (and is fairly rare there). If you read front page political stories, it seems like they all consist of assertions made by one party, followed up by reactions from the other. There are also usually some background facts, and maybe an 'expert' opinion (or two, one for each side), but that's about it. There's almost never any examination of the evidence against what's being said. I can't help but think that, if a front page story said that a major politician claimed that the sky is green, the only counterclaim in the article would be a politician from the opposing party claiming that it's blue.

I take from Merritt's statements about 'public journalism' a call to treat journalism as an attempt to report the truth as the journalists find it. If the truth as it is (as objectively as possible) discovered is blatantly in favor of a particular viewpoint, then journalists should not be afraid to report it as such. This is not being partisan--it's simply being honest.

Backflips and the tuck postion... (none / 0) (#24)
by Sawzall on Wed Jul 11, 2001 at 05:41:18 AM EST

I have seen too many journalists make those backflips trying to be "neutral" on a story. While a report should be truthfull and contain as much valid info as possible, it is absurd to think that a reporter's own feeling, values, whatever, will not have a part in her writing for example. It has become so extreme that it actually distorts the work product.

A great example of this problem can be seen in examining Pacifica. (Non USA'ns should take a look at the site to see what one type of public radio is like here in the States. There are other groups that lean just as hard to the right too). Pacifica is a old line public broadcasting group founded in the 40's. It leans very much openly to the left, by charter. This network is self-destructing because much of its core feels that it's "corporate" house has taken it down the wrong path. In turn, the national office has conducted midnight raids on stations, ousting very popular hosts and local management. Now much of the national leadership is quitting because of the protests.

This crisis for them (IMO) has been caused mostly by the movement towards embracing more issues in the drive to attract a larger audiance - issues that many in Pacifica see as diluting the voice of the stations. While I don't agree with many of Pacifica's stands, I always valued their service because it was always true to their beliefs. It was honest - much more honest than "faked" neutrality offered up by most news organizations.

[ Parent ]

Public Journalism: Public Interest? | 24 comments (19 topical, 5 editorial, 0 hidden)
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