Wednesday, September 28, 2005


OPINION: Ex-Post Dispatch editor says journalists need to accept some blame

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A glance at the current issue of The Kettering Review: Fixing journalism

Reviewed by Jamie Schuman

To offset criticism about their profession, journalists need to do a better job of relating the opinions of everyday citizens, writes Cole C. Campbell, dean of journalism at the University of Nevada at Reno and a former editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Many critics say that the quality of journalism and the public's regard for the field have dropped in recent years, and they often attribute the decline to corporate influences. But journalists need to start blaming themselves -- and not business pressures -- for problems in their profession, writes Mr. Campbell. After all, newspapers have long been for-profit entities.

"The economic explanation of journalism's failings takes journalists off the hook," Mr. Campbell writes. "It makes journalists victims, not agents."

Mr. Campbell criticizes journalists for focusing too much on opinions of the "political and social elite," failing to place isolated events in a broader context, and wrongly believing that their stories are objective and their voices are authoritative. Instead, journalists should trust everyday citizens to be sources and contributors to their publications. They also should help people become players in the political realm. To accomplish that goal, he asks reporters to:

Provide more context in their stories to show how events are tied to larger political, economic, and social systems.

Stop believing that journalism is a "form of unshakable empirical observation," and experiment more with story forms and reporting practices.

Stop limiting their sources to elite opinion makers and instead regard everyone as equal actors in shaping the public realm.

To Mr. Campbell, the function of journalism is not just to provide information, but also to "sustain inquiry that can lead to action." He writes that one of his first bosses, Claude Sitton, who worked at The New York Times and The News and Observer, in Raleigh, N.C., epitomized the notion of the journalist as a public steward. Mr. Sitton's articles on the civil-rights movement saved the lives of activists and encouraged political action -- which rarely are effects of the news media today.

The article, "Journalism and the Public: Leaps of Faith," is available to subscribers or for purchase at:

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