Moving On

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.


Filed under Standing Up for Journalism, Uncategorized

4 responses to “Moving On

  1. I totally understand your argument… I have to say, the one thing Mike was able to do was to help remind journalists that the old school talk is still VERY important in this new school world.

    I don’t think we need to redo… But it’s great to re-engage. But if I had a limited amount of manpower and a chance to try to encourage change, I would find someone who can help faculty change… I’m hoping I can accomplish that this summer.

  2. Couldn’t agree more.

    I tried to make very similar points in Bloggers vs. Journalists Is Over (2005), where I used the thoughts of Rebecca Blood to observe what you observed when you write, “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.”

    Here is how I presented the same basic point:

    …Blood showed how difficult it was to identify journalism exclusively with journalists. If we focus on practices that meet a certain standard, she said, then it is easy to tell who is who:

    When a blogger writes up daily accounts of an international conference, as David Steven did at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, that is journalism. When a magazine reporter repurposes a press release without checking facts or talking to additional sources, that is not. When a blogger interviews an author about their new book, that is journalism. When an opinion columnist manipulates facts in order to create a false impression, that is not. When a blogger searches the existing record of fact and discovers that a public figure’s claim is untrue, that is journalism. When a reporter repeats a politician’s assertions without verifying whether they are true, that is not.

    However, if you are interested in why “let’s move on,” which is so logical, is also so elusive, I think you should consider something I learned since I wrote that essay. Bloggers and journalists are each other’s ideal “other.” That might explain why (some) people don’t just move on, even though it would be better for their survival if they did.

    When you ask some mainstream journalists to give up a fruitless debate that should have been settled a while ago, you are (often) asking them to give up a potent “other” figure they use to know who they are. Maybe the solution is to substitute a better “other” than the blogger! If you think of one, let me know.

  3. Hans Ibold

    You’re a great voice for journalism studies, Carrie. I get tired of the “journalists should…” and the “they need to…” pontificating from the ivory tower, especially from academics who have no industry experience or, even worse, no intention of sharing their findings with working journalists.

  4. changingnewsroom

    Thanks for the comments!

    Jen, that’s a good point, we do need to keep principles in the forefront of our minds, and I really wasn’t trying to diss Fancher’s work in the course of making a larger point – I think he did a very commendable job working on the creed.

    Jay, thanks for such a thoughtful response – and funny how little has changed since you wrote that post in 2005, for, I suspect, exactly the reasons you state. I’ve studied some psychology in the context of organizational and professional life, and creating an “other” sure does sound familiar. 🙂 I think the only solution is just to try to get folks excited and inspired about the future in positive ways whenever possible so that the focus can start to shift away from the negative and towards the future.

    Thanks Hans. 🙂

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