Summer 2000

Introduction

By Melissa Ludtke, Editor
If the conscientious practice of journalism is essential to democracy, as the First Amendment attests, then what, if any, contemporary forces are undermining the critical role journalists have historically played? In this section, this question is addressed from a variety of perspectives.

Jessica Dorman, American Studies professor and former journalist, wonders where all the muckrakers have gone now that such reporting is needed again. Columnist Norman Solomon worries about what he doesn’t find in coverage about media mergers: discussion of the implications about what these mergers might mean in terms of limiting democratic discourse. Former Washington Post reporter Morton Mintz surveys what has already happened to the editorial voice when the subject is corporate immorality. He finds it has been silenced. Jeffrey Scheuer, author of “The Sound Bite Society: Television and the American Mind,” urges journalists to resist the commercial impulse in favor of their public function: to promote and inform our essential democratic debate.

In his review of Robert W. McChesney’s book, “Rich Media, Poor Democracy,” James W. Carey, professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, argues that “journalism and democracy are names for the same thing.” Lorie Hearn, Metro Editor of The San Diego Union-Tribune, assesses media lawyer and author Bruce Sanford’s belief that the press needs to regain the public’s confidence for constitutional rights not to be eroded. Jim Tharpe, Deputy Metro Editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, finds Bartholomew Sparrow, author of “Uncertain Guardians: The News Media as a Political Institution,” arguing that journalism’s watchdogs are being silenced by greed. And Cara DeVito, reviewing Michael Janeway’s “Republic of Denial,” widens the outlook by placing what’s happening with journalism in the context of the broader “culture of suspicion.”

Using as her foundation Jay Rosen’s provocative question and book “What Are Journalists For?,” Ellen Hume, former Executive Director of PBS’s Democracy Project, explores the fractious debate about civic journalism and comes down on the side of believing that important connections exist between journalism and citizenship. Finally, Roy Gutman assumes a global perspective in his look at a new book written by William Shawcross, “Deliver Us From Evil,” and points to the pitfalls of “insider” journalism when compared with investigative legwork.

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