Organization site - Winter 2001
Issue: 2/20/01

REVIEW: What are Journalists For?

He asks the title question, "What are journalists for? Meaning: What do we need them for? And what do they stand for?" He then promises to examine these critical questions in the remainder of the book.

Rosen supports the "public journalism" concept by noting editors and publishers should think of their newspaper design so, as they are not writing for other professional journalists, but for the public they are supposedly serving. An example is instead of simply reporting the who, what, when, where, why, and how of a vandalism incident, the newspaper could go one step further and inform the public how to best avoid becoming target a of vandalism.

While all this seems simple, Rosen takes the reader through situations where the industry clashes with the new direction.

A couple of incidents that this reviewer found interesting had to do with conflicts between the working press—editors and publishers—and the academic side. Having cut my teeth on newsprint during the late ’70s and ’80s before moving to the academic side in the ’90s, I found points could be raised on both sides.

As a former vice-president of sales for a chain of newspapers, it was encouraging to see Rosen state in the second paragraph of the book’s intro, "Although it may strive for a disciplined factuality and a healthy profit, journalism is neither a science or a business." Referrals to profitability are refreshingly found throughout the book, as way too many academic works tend to ignore this contribution. And of course, without profitability, there are no editors or publishers—a phenomenon too often illustrated during the ’80s.

He walks the reader through both good and bad examples of the new direction of journalism. This reviewer found interesting was the one example of the Dayton Daily News (my hometown paper at the time) coverage of a post cold war casualty closing of a large defense supply center, eliminating 4,500 local jobs. Rosen was familiar with Dayton as this was during the time he was serving as director of the Kettering Foundation’s (based in Dayton) Project on Public Life and the Press.

He covers in detail the paper’s progress and interviews the editor regarding how this was covered from the new "public journalism" objective instead of simply reporting the news. It is ironic to note that 10 years later, the 4,500 jobs, the editor of the News at the time, and all the writers mentioned that worked on the story are gone. A new publisher and editor are at the helm of the Cox owned paper and it is reported to be one of the chain’s more profitable outlets.

After taking the reader through numerous "public journalism projects—both successful and unsuccessful—he sums up the book by scribing a brief history of journalism and its help in shaping the Republic, from its anti-King of England content of the Revolutionary War to the "Yellow Journalism," "Penny Press," "Watergate" era and other stages of the business until he closes by answering the title question and the query he posed in his introduction.

We need journalists to watch over things for us, since we do not go where they go or see what they see. But the things they can watch for go well beyond the corrupt official, the dissembling politician, and the bungling bureaucracy. The press needs to watch for places where we lose touch with the public world by letting our attention lapse, our indifference grow. It should keep itself alert to the points of contact between our felt troubles and larger issues that rise on the public screen. Training their sights on public problems, journalists can watch carefully for the best points of entry, where people can raise their voices, lend their views make use of the talents, get involved. Knowing that a fascination with the larger world lives in all of us, they can try to keep track of the human hunger to know, which never quite dies, amid all the other appetites to which our popular culture caters.