We talk, and we talk, and we talk, and we reinvent the wheel again, and again, and again.
Some days, I want to cry uncle.
If you know me, you are probably rolling your eyes right now because you’ve heard this rant I’m about to launch into before. For years. Let us ALL hope we can stop talking about this, and start focusing on concrete ideas for the future.
Back in 1997, Bill Kovach, Tom Rosentiel and the Committee of Concerned Journalists convened a series of forums throughout the nation, bringing together no fewer than 3000 journalists, academics, First Amendment scholars, and regular folks to identify and discuss the core values of journalism. [Yes, they were my bosses for three years in a fantastic job I had with CCJ. Maybe I’m just biased. But read on.]
They also partnered with a team of university researchers who conducted more than 100 three-and-a-half hour interviews with journalists. They conducted two national surveys. They did 12 content analyses of news coverage. And finally, they did their own extensive lit review of the history of journalism.
They compiled the results in a little book called The Elements of Journalism. Here’s the cheat sheet. This book is not, as I’ve heard some academics refer to it, “the Kovach and Rosentiel view” of journalism. As the previous methodologies described attest, these core principles are widely agreed upon, and indeed, they are at the very core of the professional identities of every good journalist I know. Truth, accuracy, a discpline of verificaiton, transparency, independence from faction, watchdogging the powerful, committment to conscience, and more. Each individual journalist/news organization might apply them somewhat differently in a particular situation, but these principles honor and respect that.
I refer to the book, only slightly in jest, as the Bible of Journalism to my students.
These are our values. Anything out there that follows these values is journalism. Anything that does not is something else. I’d even go so far as to argue that the “something else” isn’t per se bad. But it IS different.
So WHEW, now that we’ve figured that out, let’s take these values and carry them into the future. How can we make them come to life in new media? How can we help audiences to understand these principles that guide us? How can we build community and actively engage our audience in becoming partners with us in carrying these principles out?
Ah, but yet.
Still. Still I have to try to convince a small group of academic colleagues that “the blogs” are actually just a content management system, just as newsprint is also a vessel for the National Enquirer. Are bloggers journalists? Ah, but that fraught question has such a simple answer. If a blogger follows these principles, why indeed, she is. If a blogger opines in his pajamas without any basis in fact, he may be adding quite productivley to the cacophony of voices that makes free speech and democracy great, but nope, not a journalist. Can a “citizen” BE a journalist? Sure they can, if they follow these principles – although I’m among those that certainly believe that healthy democracy still depends on people who can actually make a living wage doing this. But I digress.
Today I “attended” virtually a symposium sponsored by the Reynolds Journalism Institute at my alma mater, Mizzou. One of the fellows, Mike Fancher, formerly of the Seattle Times, did a year-long project on modernizing the “journalist’s creed.” He pointed out the importance of conscience, a discipline of verification, and “telling the readers how we know what we know” which Kovach and Rosentiel call transparency. Now, I agreed with every word that Mike said. It was an intelligent and thoughtful presentation, and it was only five minutes long, so I’m sure he was barely able to scratch the surface of his work. But I couldn’t help but be struck that we’ve been here before. Do we need to continue re-doing the same research that produced Elements – or should we move on to figuring out, in the concrete sense, how to bring them to life online?
This is the focus of my own research, which I hope to start blogging about more now that the semester is over.
If anything, the Internet is the best thing to happen to journalism, as Steve Rhodes smartly argues. Yes, we need a new business model (Fine folks at RevenueTwoPointZero have brilliant, concrete ideas on that.) But let’s move forward and quit getting distracted by the same debates. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m excited as heck to try and find them. After all, democracy depends on journalism. Let’s do it.