The Elements of Journalism : What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect
In July 1997, twenty-five of America's most influential journalists sat down to try and discover what had happened to their profession in the years between Watergate and Whitewater. What they knew was that the public no longer trusted the press as it once had. They were keenly aware of the pressures that advertisers and new technologies were putting on newsrooms around the country. But, more than anything, they were aware that readers, listeners, and viewers - the people who use the news - were turning away from it in droves. There were many reasons for the public's growing lack of trust. On television, there were the ads that looked like news shows and programs that presented gossip and press releases as if they were news. There were the "docudramas," television movies that were an uneasy blend of fact and fiction and which purported to show viewers how events had "really" happened. At newspapers and magazines, celebrity was replacing news, newsroom budgets were being slashed, and editors were pushing journalists for more "edge" and "attitude" in place of reporting.
In 1997, 25 men and women formed the Committee of Concerned Journalists and began a three-year investigation into what they believe is a crisis in journalism today. If, as they set forth, "the purpose of journalism is to provide people with the information they need to be free and self-governing," the committee believes that journalism has lost its credibility in the interest of the bottom line. One of the main reasons for this new emphasis on the bottom line, claim committee chair Kovach and fellow member Rosenstiel (coauthors of Warp Speed: America in the Age of Mixed Media), is that "technology is shaping a new economic organization of information companies [e.g., Time Warner is now part of AOL, Disney owns ABC News], which is subsuming journalism inside it." In this incisive, controversial and well-presented work, the authors have synthesized the committee's findings to lay down nine principles of sound journalism for both those in the industry and the citizens who rely on the free press as a fundamental element of democracy. First and foremost among these principles is journalism's "obligation to the truth." At first glance, this principle may appear self-evident, but as Kovach and Rosenstiel explain, what constitutes the truth is sticky and often misunderstood. For example, the truth may be neither fair nor balanced, nor should it necessarily be, they say. Kovach and Rosenstiel have issued a clarion call to their colleagues, and they hope that all journalists, editors and owners of news organizations will incorporate the principles of the profession as they've outlined them into their everyday work. However, the authors offer no specific suggestions as to how to enact these principles in a wide-reaching or systematic manner. (Apr.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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Three Rivers Press
December 26, 2001
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Excerpt from The Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach
What Is Journalism For?
On a gray December morning in 1981, Anna Semborska woke up and flipped on the radio to hear her favorite program, Sixty Minutes Per Hour. Semborska, who was seventeen, loved the way the comedy revue pushed the boundaries of what people in Poland could say out loud. Though it had been on the air for some years, with the rise of the labor union Solidarity, 60MPH had become much more bold. Sketches like one about a dim-witted Communist doctor looking vainly to find a cure for extremism were an inspiration to Anna and her teenage friends in Warsaw. The program showed her that other people felt about the world the way she did, but had never dared express. "We felt that if things like these can be said on the radio then we are free," she would remember nearly twenty years later. (1)
But when Anna ran to the radio to tune in the show on December 13, 1981, she heard only static. She tried another station, then another. Nothing. She tried to call a friend and found no dial tone. Her mother called her to the window. Tanks were rolling by. The Polish military government had declared martial law, outlawed Solidarity, and put the clamps back on the media and on speech. The Polish experiment with liberalization was over.
Within hours, Anna and her friends began to hear stories that suggested something this time was different. In a little town called 'Swidnik near the Czech border, there were the dogwalkers. Every night at 7:30, when the state-run television news came on, nearly everyone in 'Swidnik went out and walked his dog in a little park in the center of town.
It became a daily silent act of protest and solidarity. We refuse to watch. We reject your version of truth.
In Gdansk, there were the black TV screens. People there began moving their television sets to the windows-with the screens pointed out to the street. They were sending a sign to one another, and the government. We, too, refuse to watch. We also reject your version of truth.
An underground press began to grow, on ancient hand-crank equipment. People began carrying video cameras and making private documentaries, which they showed secretly in church basements. Soon, Poland's leaders acknowledged they were facing a new phenomenon, something they had to go west to name. It was the rise of Polish public opinion. In 1983, the government created the first of several institutes to study it. It mostly conducted public opinion surveys. Others would sprout up throughout Eastern Europe as well. This new phenomenon was something totalitarian officials could not dictate. At best, they could try to understand it and then manipulate it, not unlike Western democratic politicians. They would not succeed.
Afterward, leaders of the movement toward freedom would look back and think the end of Communism owed a good deal to the coming of new information technology and the effect it had on human souls. In the winter of 1989, the man who shortly would be elected Poland's new president visited with journalists in Washington. "Is it possible for a new Stalin to appear today who could murder people?" Lech Walesa asked rhetorically. No, he answered himself. In the age of computers, satellites, faxes, VCRs, "it's impossible." Technology now made information available to too many people, too quickly. And information created democracy. (2)