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The Elements of Journalism

Words on the cover of this Nieman Reports special issue—Essays About ‘The Elements of Journalism’—explain why the collection endures as an invaluable Teaching Tool:
The Nieman Foundation is pleased to offer this teaching resource in the belief that the nine principles that form the foundation of ‘The Elements of Journalism’ and discussion by journalists about them will be a valuable text for students in basic writing and editing courses as well as in seminars that explore theories of journalism and the role of the press in society.
The nine core principles of journalism and the 18 short essays written by journalists—two for each principle—are as relevant to discussions about journalism today as when they were published a decade ago. At a time when it can be challenging to sustain students’ attention with book-length reading assignments, this collection of essays offers an excellent alternative for constructing an essential foundation for aspiring journalists. This was a primary goal that Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel had in mind when they wrote “The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect,” from which this material derives.

Download the PDF »Here are samples from four of the essays:

Principle 3: “The essence of journalism is a discipline of verification.”

In her essay, Michele McLellan underscored the importance of checking and double-checking facts, when she wrote that “we do fail our readers too often, from typos to oversimplification to factual mistakes to assumptions. When in doubt or in a hurry, we assume it’s right. What if we always assumed it is wrong?”

Principle 4: “Journalists must maintain an independence from those they cover.”

As a professor of journalism at the University of Hong Kong who also spent decades working as a journalist in the United States, Ying Chan understood well the tensions that arise from a reporter’s dual identity as a citizen and a journalist. As she wrote, “I recently explained to a young writer that his role is not to defend China. A journalist’s job is to scrutinize the facts and then let the chips fall where they might. Nor is it, I told him, the task of the U.S. media to defend their nation’s actions.”

Principle 6: “Journalism must provide a forum for public criticism and comment.”

Geneva Overholser, a former obudsman at The Washington Post who is  now professor and director of USC Annenberg's School of Journalism, wrote that “the spawning of new technologies and ever more numerous channels of information make the media’s potential for creating public forums more robust than ever. But today’s conditions also greatly increase chances that the news will be distorted and manipulated and make it harder that it’s ever been to shape the news responsibly.”

Principle 9: “Journalists have an obligation to personal conscience.”

Chicago broadcast journalist Carol Marin opened her essay by talking about moments “when journalism students arrive at my door to ask what they should know about being reporters.” After describing what she tells them, Marin observed that “… journalists don’t just report on ethical dilemmas that others confront—though we do plenty of that, as well—but also travel through territory of ethical conflicts.”