Civic Journalism & Electronic Publishing


History of Electronic media

Civic Journalism

Customized News

Future of Newspaper

Links to other journalism sites

December 16, 1996

Top Issue in '97: News Content

From an online-news mailing list, journalists and media professionals put up a discussion on identifying the key issues that the interactive publishing industry is likely to face in 1997. Leah Gentry, assistant managing editor for Excite, and Howard I. Finberg, director of information technology for Phoenix Newspapers, Inc., agreed that newspapers need to make content the top priority in the coming year.

Gentry said content should be crafted with the medium in mind, and content should be user-friendly, customizable where appropriate, compelling in all instances. Finberg highlighted that a bigger issue facing the industry is concerning about the consumers. Newspapers have to focus on what kind of services they will offer to meet consumer needs.

Civic Journalism

During 1980s, the profits and market value of newspapers and television news divisions began a significant decline (Harwood, the Washington Post, Jan. 17, 1995). Their audience shares were shrinking along with their shares of advertising revenue. Harwood wrote the lose of readership underlies and motivates the "civic journalism" movement.

The premise of "civic journalism" is that newspapers are aloof from their readers. Richard Harwood, a consultant to the Pew Center for Civic Journalism, argued that the remoteness of newspapers from their communities contributes to the alienation and detachment of people from public affairs. It also contributes to their alienation from the press and their loss of interest in newspaper reading.

The new theory is that newspapers create connections with the readers by their publications. Newspapers create a dialogue with and among their readers by actively soliciting their views, by using news columns and the opinion pages to promote civic virtue and involvement.

Mike Hoyt, senior editor of Columbia Journalism Review, wrote the movement was strengthened in October 1994 when local newspapers invited Korean community leaders to meet with local politicians to discuss the issue about a pair of cops strode into a Korean Presbyterian church. In the news article covering the meeting, the religion reporter shared a byline with the editor who had facilitated the meeting, and the article had a brighter point of view. It is in the interest of a newspaper to portray its public journalism efforts as helpful, perhaps even when they are not. With a few twists of the semantic dials, public journalism can become public posturing.

Philip Meyer listed a number of defining elements of civic journalism, which are considered to be consistent with the historical role of journalism as a society's watchdog. The objective is to focus on the light of public attention on any problem long enough to spark discourse leading to a solution. Six elements presented in the Investigative Reporters and Editors' 1995 conference are :

  • a desire to rebuild a community's sense of itself;
  • a longer attention span of a problem or an issue presented in news;
  • a willingness to go deeply into explaining the systems that direct our lives;
  • more attention to the rational middle ground of issues and less attention to extremes;
  • a preference for substance over tactics in covering political argument; and
  • a desire to foster deliberation, such as expressing journalists' own point of view and encouraging members of the community to understand different viewpoints.

    Jay Rosen a communications professor at New York University, advocates civic journalism that the real purpose of newspaper objectivity is to frame problems in ways that enable society to talk about them.

    The trend of civic journalism has drawn prominent attention as a lot of newsroom have initiated the project during the past three years. In Hoyt's article, by summer 1994, the last time Jay Rosen's Project on Public Life and the Press added up the number of newsrooms experimenting with public journalism, the number had reached 171. Part of the momentum stems from the fact that a number of people inside and outside of journalism have been thinking along similar lines and finding each other's work.

    The Pew Center for Civic Journalism, meanwhile, was born in September 1993 with a $4 million three-year grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts, founded by Sun Oil Co. heirs, as part of its "Renewing our Democratic Heart" initiative. The center has supported more than a dozen civic journalism projects around the country, from a few thousand to more than a hundred thousand dollars to the budgets of the news organizations involved.

    While critics against civic journalism are rolling, journalists are still eager to get involved in this experiment of rejuvenating the way news is presented. Todd Oppenheimer of Columbia Journalism Review discussed that a number of online publications are using the World Wide Web to develop interactive products that offer new ways to link news organizations with their readers or viewers.

    Back To Top

  • Quote
    "In a word, public journalists want public life to work. In order to make it work they are willing to declare an end to their neutrality on certain questions -- for example: whether people participate, whether a genuine debate takes place when needed, whether a community comes to grips with its problems," writes Jay Rosen, one of the leading exponents of civic journalism.

    Personal Collection
    Links to other journalism-related sites


  • Harwood, Richard. (Jan. 17, 1995). Civic Journalism 101. The Washington Post. p.A19.

  • Hoyt, Mike. (Sept.-Oct. 1995). "Are You Now, or Will You Ever Be, A Civic Journalist? As the Theory Moves into Practice in More and More Newsrooms, the Debate Gets Sharper" Columbia Journalism Review.

  • Meyer, Philip. (1995). "Public Journalism and the Problem of Objectivity" Investigative Reporters and Editors conference speech.

  • Todd Oppenheimer. (March-April 1996). " Virtual Reality Check" Columbia Journalism Review.

    Go to:

    History of Electronic media
    Customization of Online News
    Future of Newspaper
    Links to other journalism sites

    This paper is prepared by Shirley Yam.
    Yam is a graduate student in
    College of Journalism and Communications
    at University of Florida.