Emergent Journalism

Reports from the front line of journalism instruction

Current innovations recall public journalism’s spirit and values

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The following was posted as a comment to an article calling for a revival of public journalism written by Roy Peter Clark on the Poynter Institute website titled Can ‘public journalism’ reform campaign coverage? Clark’s article ends with the statements: “Let’s go retro. Someone call a meeting. How about in the bleachers at Camden Yards?” 

No real need to call a meeting given that initiatives are under way in the profession and the academy to develop ideas for revitalizing journalism in ways that support civic engagement.

Granted, none of these initiatives are likely to reform the ugly mess that coverage of the presidential campaign has become. They are centered on local news and journalism education.

But it’s worth noting that “classic” (or “retro”) civic/public journalism also was done by local newspapers about local issues in places such as Charlotte, NC; Akron, OH and Norfolk, VA. Even though reaction to the ugliness of the 1988 presidential campaign (cue Willie Horton ad) was one impetus for the development of the public journalism movement, there was no such initiative at the national, presidential level in subsequent campaigns. Public/civic journalism was about engaging with local publics to set the agenda for news coverage in their communities. It is in that spirit that some of these new initiatives are proceeding.

One is being presented by the Association for Journalism and Mass Communication Education in partnership with the Kettering Foundation. Kettering, which supported some of the initial work in public journalism by Jay Rosen, has returned to the field to work with AEJMC on a program to foster research into new ways of doing journalism and new ideas for teaching journalism students to be more civic minded and engaged. The results will be presented at AEJMC’s annual conference in August; some background about it can be found in the association newsletter.  (See page 2 of PDF at that link) [Disclosure: I am the research director for this project.]

But other engagement projects are under way in myriad places, such as the Local News Lab in New Jersey. It’s Declaration of Dependence for newsrooms and their communities is very rooted in the spirit of public journalism. Others include the Hearken project, News Voices New Jersey and Solutions Journalism.

The point is that experimentation with alternatives to doing public interest journalism in collaboration with the public — recalling the spirit and values of public/civic journalism — is becoming popular and productive. But getting together with representatives of all of these initiatives at Camden Yards would be sort of fun.

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Author: Jack Rosenberry

Professor in the the Department of Media and Communication at St. John Fisher College in Rochester NY

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