1999 Batten Symposium Keynote Address

The Why "The Informed Citizen" Is Too Much To Ask - And Not Enough

By Michael Schudson
Professor and Author
"The Good Citizen, A History of American Civic Life"

Kathy Hansen, Director, Minnesota Journalism Center:

Our luncheon speaker today is Michael Schudson, Professor of Communication and Sociology at the University of California-San Diego, where he has taught since 1980. Schudson grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and was educated at Swarthmore College and Harvard University.

His book, "Discovering the News," in 1978 established him as a leading scholar in the history of American journalism. Later works also dealt with aspects of the American news media, "Advertising: The Uneasy Persuasion" in 1984; "Watergate in American History" in 1992; and "The Power of News" in 1995. He's been honored with a Guggenheim Fellowship, with a resident fellowship at the then-Gannett Center for Media Studies and with a MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant.

Schudson's most recent work, published last September, is "The Good Citizen, A History of American Civic Life." The Washington Post called it "a good and important book." Nicholas Lemann, in the Washington Monthly, called it "admirable, consistently interesting, extremely valuable." And Buzz Merritt, in The Wichita Eagle, wrote that Schudson is "a fine writer and storyteller." His work invariably seeks to add understanding as opposed to merely challenging conventional wisdom."

We're very happy to have him with us at the University of Minnesota today as the luncheon keynote speaker for the Batten Symposium. Please join me in a warm welcome for Professor Michael Schudson.

Keynote Address
Michael Schudson:

Thank you. I'm very pleased to be here to honor distinguished practitioners and supporters of civic journalism. I'm glad to be included as a friend of this movement, although I've written about it with some criticism but also high praise.

If anyone had asked me 10 or 15 years ago what would happen if a serious effort were made to tell news institutions and journalists that they were not doing their job right and that they were capable of collectively doing something about it, my answer would have been simple. I would have said that any professional group is hard to reform, any group. But one that's insecure about its own professionalism would be even harder.

I would have said any organization is hard to reform. But if there's a First Amendment that takes government pressure out of play, change will be even harder.

I would have said that journalists are as capable as any professional group of self-criticism and even self-flagellation, but they are the nation's most toothless group when it comes to making institutional change a serious priority.

In short, I would have said - if anyone had asked - to Buzz Merritt or Jim Batten or Jay Rosen or Ed Fouhy or others, I would have said "Go home." I would have told The Pew Charitable Trusts to spend their money doing something more useful.

And I would have been wrong.

So much for the wisdom I gained as a scholar of the sociology and history of the press.

The odd thing, though, is I think my analysis is correct. Journalism is more resistant to organized change and self-conscious reform than are other professional groups. I'm right, I think, about the structure of journalism. But structure does not predict much in the face of profound shifts in human consciousness.

No China expert predicted Tiananmen Square. No scholar anticipated the civil rights movement. No one, including Franklin Roosevelt, predicted the New Deal. No one, amidst America's rapid economic growth in the 1950s, an unprecedented rise to world power by 1960, anticipated that all cultural hell was about to break loose. No one in the 1980s recognized just how precarious was the status of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union; no one sensed the iron curtain about to come down.

As a sociologist, I think I should learn from that to be humble. As a citizen, I should learn from that not to accept any analysis that tells us the game is over, that the world can't get better, because, say, the corporations have the politicians in their pockets, or because the corporations run the media, or because technology dictates certain outcomes, or because capitalism is an unstoppable dynamo, or because ethnic and racial hatred runs deeper even than capitalism.

Of course, you'd have to be crazy not to acknowledge the power of technology and money and hate. But, if that's all there is, then we'd have no civil rights movement, we'd have no women's movement, we'd have no fall of communism. And we'd also have no civic journalism.

My hopefulness is based on more than a general faith in the capacity of human beings to perversely violate our best predictions. It is based also on my understanding of the American past and the ways American citizenship has changed over the past 200 years.

We have moved through four different routes to civic participation. But we tend to be obsessed, I think, with one of the four models of American citizenship, the one we know as "the informed citizen." The citizen who takes an interest in and participates in government, within norms of equality and the rule of law, is, indeed, the heart and soul of democracy. But this is not the same thing as what we've taken to calling "the informed citizen."

"The informed citizen" is a very specific, late 19th century, Progressive Era invention with a troubling dark side of its own, with an unrealizable and therefore demoralizing ambitiousness and with a strong contempt for other models of citizenship that can still serve us well.

Being well informed, I think, is both too much to ask of our fellow citizens and, at the same time, not nearly enough. That's sort of the text for my remarks today.

It's hard for a teacher to say this, just as it may be hard for a journalist to agree to it, but it must be said: The link between information and democracy is not as tight as we've made it out to be. It is important. It is not all important. It did not dominate the imaginations of our founding fathers. It had nothing to do with the early 19th century American invention of the most important engine and agent of modern democracy - the political party.

Founding Fathers

Let me dwell on the founding fathers a moment. Suppose we're having a conversation about citizen involvement in today's politics. And you say Americans never understood the Clinton health care plan. It was the most important item on the public agenda. We talked about it and talked about it, for months and months. And even after all of that, no one had the faintest idea what it was about. What a shame.

And you'll expect me to cluck my tongue and agree about how terrible that is. What's wrong with us? How can we expect a democracy to work when it wallows in such abysmal ignorance?

Now suppose George Washington or Tom Jefferson joined in this conversation. They're not going to cluck their tongues. They're going to say, "Huh? What? You mean to tell me that a bill before the Congress was discussed publicly in the press and among citizens and they were expected to have views about it? Why? What did you guys think you were doing?"

In the world of colonial Virginia, where Washington and Jefferson learned their politics, the job of the voter - the white male owning property - was to do no more than affirm the right to rule of the solid citizens of his community. The actual practice of voting made this clear. There were no parties. There were no nominations. The solid citizens, the leading landowners, came to informal agreement about whose noblesse oblige it was this year to stand for office.

And then they stood for office, and on election day literally stood next to the sheriff by the polling place, and the voters would come up to them, the two candidates for the House of Burgesses would be there, the voter would say out loud, "I'm voting for George Washington." And then he'd go over to George, shake hands, and George would hand him a glass of rum punch.

Now think about it, the people who wrote the Constitution, the people who signed the Declaration, that's the model of voting they had in mind, at least the ones from the South, including Jefferson and Madison. What information did a voter require then?

Only, in Jefferson's words, to recognize virtue well enough to be able to know and defeat its counterfeit. Citizens were to be democratic clinicians who could spot a rash of ambition before it became a full-grown tyranny. They would turn back the ambitious and self-seeking at the polls. But they were not to examine public issues themselves. That was what representatives were for. Not parties, not interest groups, not newspapers, not citizens in the street, but legislatures and legislatures alone would deliberate and decide.

Let me tell you how far this extended, in not only 1776 but into the 1790s. There are a number of people around the country who are rather sympathetic to the French Revolution and beginning to be disgruntled with the Federalists in power, and they form discussion groups.

When George Washington looked at the "Democratic-Republican clubs," political discussion societies that sprang up in 1793 and 1794, he saw a genuine threat to civil order. The clubs were, to him, "self-created societies" that presumed to make claims upon the government, to offer suggestions to the government about what it should decide - when they had not been elected by the people nor sat in the chambers of the Congress to hear the viewpoints of all. What de Tocqueville would one day praise, Washington excoriated.

Let me give you a quick sense of how passionate George Washington felt about the illegitimacy of voluntary organizations taking part in politics. He wrote to a friend asking if anything could be...

"...more absurd, more arrogant, or more pernicious to the peace of society than for self-created bodies, forming themselves into permanent censors and, under the shade of night in a conclave, resolving that acts of Congress, which have undergone the most deliberate and solemn discussion by the representatives of the people chosen for the express purpose and bringing with them from the different parts of the union the sense of their constituents - endeavoring, as far as the nature of things will admit, to form that will into laws for the government of the whole - I say, under these circumstances, for a self-created permanent body - for no one denies the right of the people to meet occasionally - to petition for or remonstrate against any acts of the legislature ... to declare that this act is unconstitutional and that act is pregnant of mischief and that all who vote contrary to their dogmas are actuated by selfish motives or under foreign influence, nay, in plain terms are traitors to their country, is such a stretch of arrogant presumption to be reconciled with laudable motives, especially when we see the same set of men endeavoring to destroy all confidence in the administration by arraigning all its acts without knowing on what ground or with what information it proceeds, and this without regard to decency or truth."

[Applause.] Thank you.

As for the free press, some patriots who were ardent defenders of free speech and press when they were challenging a monarchy felt quite differently when the authority in control was an elected legislature and not a hereditary ruler. Even the likes of Sam Adams were wary of open criticism of government once the new nation was launched.

Now this is very important. Many journalists, like many Americans in general, have views of American history that are, to historians' views, something like creationism is to science. Editorial writers, by and large, are creationists. God and Tom Jefferson brought forth on our continent a nation conceived in liberty and equality and our job since then has been to work out the details. It's not so. The founders experienced a very different world and assumed a very different model of the good citizen. Their good citizen was a citizen of deference, a citizen who knew his place. That was "the virtuous citizen." That's stage one.

I think there's something to learn from that sense of trust in others in one's community. But we didn't stop there.

A second era began roughly in the 1820s, in which the good citizen knew not his place, but his party and was loyal to it. I will have to skip over the party period of American history, from the 1820s until about the early 1900s. But suffice it to say that in this era the informational demands on citizens were also minimal.

Take voting. How did you vote in the 19th century? When you went to vote, you would be met near the polling place by ticket peddlers for the different parties. You would pick up a ticket from someone in your party and you would walk to the ballot box and place it in. The ticket had the names of that party's candidates. You didn't have to look at it. You didn't have to be literate. In many states at the time, you didn't even have to be a citizen. Literacy was not required. Political activity did not demand knowledge of the issues but convivial and ritual participation in barbecues, torchlight processions, pole-raisings, parades and festivals.


This changed at the end of the 19th century, when the era of "the informed citizen" begins. The Mugwump reforms sought to make elections "educational" and the Progressives after them tried to insulate the independent rational citizen from the distorting enthusiasms, as they saw it, of political parties. It is to them that we owe the ideal of "the informed citizen" and not to the founding fathers.

In the 1880s, political campaigns began to shift from parades to pamphlets and so put a premium on literacy. In the early 1900s, non-partisan municipal elections, presidential primaries, the initiative and referendum imposed more challenging cognitive tasks on the ordinary voter than ever before.

That's a long story. I can't describe it all here. I do have a book but... Let me just take, as emblematic, one important reform called the Australian ballot. This was essentially the ballot you and I still know today. State printed rather than printed by the party, including the candidates from all the parties, not just from one. And it swept the country beginning in 1888. By 1892, three-quarters of the states were using it.

We should have celebrated this past decade 100 years of the secret ballot in America because it was not secret until then. But unfortunately, our public culture remains creationist and we believe that free and fair elections, as we understand them, were born full-bodied out of the forehead of Jefferson and Madison.

The Australian ballot shifted the center of political gravity from party to voter. The new ballot asked voters to make a choice among alternatives rather than to perform an act of affiliation as a party. The secret ballot elevated the individual, educated, rational voter as the model citizen.

Political participation became more cognitive, less visceral. More intellectually demanding, rather less fun.

The large voting public of the late 19th century, with voter turnout in the North routinely at 75 to 80 percent, became the vanishing public of the 1920s with turnout under 50 percent.

The Dark Side

The great editor of The Nation and the New York Evening Post, E.L. Godkin, was an ardent civil service reformer. He sought to end immigration from Southern Europe, to require a literacy test for voting, to provide extra votes for the wealthy. He opposed women's suffrage out of fear that the servant girls would outvote their mistresses. He believed that Anglo-Saxons were the backbone of our civilization and that foreigners lacked "the Anglo-Saxon respect for forums and legal traditions." Americans, he held, placed too much stock in natural rights and not enough in the value of education and "the authority of training and culture."

There was great sympathy for Godkin when he declared that "there is no corner of our system in which the hastily made and ignorant foreign voter may not be found eating away the political structure, like a white ant, with a group of natives standing over him and encouraging him."

Literacy Tests

As I'm sure you know, literacy tests for voting became law in seven Southern states between 1890 and 1908 but in the same years also passed in Wyoming, Maine, California, Washington, Delaware, New Hampshire, Arizona and a bit later in New York and Oregon. In fact, the Australian ballot had made literacy a de facto requirement anyway.

The ideal of "the informed citizen" has been, in part, an ideal of a restricted educated franchise.

Second, the ideal of "the informed citizen" has been directly and explicitly a rejection of partisan politics, of machine politics, of a politics intertwined and inextricable from every-day social life and social relations.

Third, the idea of "the informed citizen" created essentially impossible intellectual demands on the ordinary citizen. If you don't believe that, as a Californian, I have to show something to you.

Beginning in this same period, a number of states, notably California and Oregon, passed laws that authorized the state to prepare informational pamphlets before elections. Here's the one for last June's primary in California. The ballot proposition is 76 pages of fairly fine print mostly going over the propositions. Of course, that's just the primary. In the final, the general election in November, it's 126 pages. The print's even smaller.

Of course, this is statewide. Here's the county of San Diego's, 60 or 70 pages - I mean, there is more non-fiction print that you're supposed to have in the two weeks before elections than most people read in a year.

One of my favorite reform movements was the short ballot movement around the time of World War I. There were so many more offices available for election because of the Progressive reforms, there was so much attention to the referenda and initiatives that the ballots got really large, sort of blanket ballots. And people realized that this was only throwing the party back into the hands of the party bosses because no sane person would ever be able to get through this material.

So there was a powerful national movement for the short ballot, which would reduce the number of items presented to people at the time. Woodrow Wilson endorsed it and it passed, especially at municipal levels.

There is a kind of presumption of intellectual omniscience in the idea of "the informed citizen" as we have usually developed it.

The fourth point about the ideal of "the informed citizen:" it's at war not only with the model of partisan citizenship that preceded it, but also with the model of citizenship that, in my view, follows it. A model of "the rights-conscious citizen."

Fourth Stage

Now let me get to this fourth stage, which again I don't have time to describe in detail. But simply put, a fourth stage (At the voting booth, we're still in stage three.) developed that brought the courthouse, as well as the polling place, within the purview of the ordinary citizen as an arena for civic participation. Political movements and political organizations that in the past had only legislative points of access to political power now found that the judicial system offered an alternative route to their goals.

Indeed, at least one legal scholar has gone so far as to urge that a citizen has not only an obligation to vote but an obligation to sue. And, actually, I agree with this.

What I want to stress here is just one feature of this "rights-conscious citizenship" that is new. That for all practical purposes, it is a vision born of the civil rights movement, not of the Bill of Rights. It owes more to Martin Luther King than it does to Thomas Jefferson.

Let me share just one telling statistic. In 1935, the Supreme Court handed down 160 decisions and two of them concerned civil liberties, civil rights. In 1989, the Court decided 132 cases and fully half - 66 - concerned civil liberties.

In the Congress as well as in the courts, the two decades following the Montgomery bus boycott were revolutionary. Between the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the beginning of the Carter administration, the federal government passed more regulatory laws than it had in the country's entire prior history. People worry about overregulation, there's some real grounds for this.

But this silent New Deal, as I think we could call it, from 1960 to 1975, came not only from Washington but from the power of the rights revolution and the way it changed consciousness in every sphere of American life. In schools and in universities, in families and professions, in private places of employment and, not least of all, in political institutions themselves, including the parties, the rights revolution brought federal power or national norms of equality and due process to bear on local practices.

Citizenship overflowed its banks and touched every corner of our lives. Now it's no wonder that in a political culture that has taken rights seriously for about 35 years, not really much longer, that there have been excesses and gaffes and embarrassments. But we should be exploring, not excoriating, the rights revolution. We should be improving, and not rejecting, rights talk in America.

Civic Journalism Lessons

Now I think, if the story I tell here of these four stages of American citizenship is correct, that there are some lessons in it for civic journalism. One is, again, that rights is not the opposite of community and rights is not the opposite of civility.

One of the first responses I received to my book came in e-mail from Buzz Merritt, who wrote that he liked the book and thought it might give him a new way to think about one problem in public journalism. He said, "Those of us involved in public journalism write and talk a great deal about the problem of people turned inward and ... away from public life. We've only discussed solutions in terms of somehow persuading people to change. It's cynicism about the possibility of changing people ... that leads critics to label us idealistic and hopelessly naive. Your analysis raises the possibility that rights consciousness can be leveraged, and I want to think a lot about that."

I think he's right. I think rights consciousness can be leveraged. That's the first thing I would say, by way of counsel, to civic journalists. Civic journalists should not take communitarian philosophy too seriously and should begin to explore, not to excoriate, the rights revolution in American life.

We've barely begun, I think, the kind of civic education that we require if we're to take rights seriously. We have to be able to say, as Thurgood Marshall did to the NAACP chapter in Alabama in 1940, that the good NAACP member will not only know where the registrar of voters is but where the U.S. Attorney's office is.

We have to be able to recognize, with Mark Galanter, law professor at Wisconsin, that in many respects our society is under-litigious, not over-litigious, and most of the talk of our litigation-happy society is baloney. We have to see that there are individual rights-oriented, jealous, defensive, self-interested routes to better community life so long as they are pursued in the name of public norms of equality, liberty and due process, to which the notion of rights directs us.

Let me just offer one example. There's a terribly important footnote in the works of the U.S. Supreme Court. It's called Footnote Four by lawyers from the United States v. Carolene Products case of 1938. I'd never heard about it until about five years ago. I'm guessing most of you have not heard of it either.

It seems to me now, at least as I see things today, that it should be as familiar to you and me as the Gettysburg Address. Here's what it is. The case, U.S. v. Carolene Products, is insignificant. But Footnote Four is very significant. Footnote Four says we're not going to look really closely at what the legislature did here. Normally, the court should defer to the legislature and the Congress because they're the more democratic branches. We're appointed, not elected, and so on, a good 18th century constitutional understanding of things.

But they say, there are three conditions under which we will look at what the legislature does with strict scrutiny. One, if the law before us seems to violate an express provision of the Constitution. Two, if the law before us bears on the political process itself, the electoral process, because if that's corrupt everything is corrupt and the law that is passed we cannot trust. And third, and most important, we would regard with strict scrutiny any law that seems to bear directly on or to single out a discrete and insular minority.

Why? The logic flows from point two - a discrete and insular minority, unlike other groups in America, will not have any real chance to make use of the majoritarian process. The discrete and insular minority will always be a minority. And so it needs more than the legislative branch above it. It needs the courts to protect it from majorities.

Madison could have written this, perhaps, but he didn't. It took the Court until 1938 to do it. And it poses to the majoritarian process in a brief but telling way why minorities deserve extra consideration from the constitutional system.

Okay. I truly believe this, we all should know it. Footnote Four should be in every eighth-grade textbook. It's mostly not in college textbooks, but it is in almost every important Supreme Court decision since 1938 bearing on minority civil rights. So yes, rights-consciousness should be leveraged.

A second point, "the informed citizen" model itself is ripe for reconsideration. We have to find a place in popular rhetoric and democratic theory for the use of specialized or expert knowledge. This is a task that merits renewed attention: the quest for a language of public life that reconciles democracy and expertise.

Civic journalism will be making a mistake if it opts for a kind of sloppy populism. Anything the experts do must be tainted. Anything that happens at the grass roots receives the benefit of a doubt. That, I think, is the wrong impulse. I think we have to rely on expert knowledge. We just have to know - and we don't - how and where and in what manner that expertise fits into a democratic process.

Third point, news organizations and journalists should become less hostile to political parties. Less suspicious of partisanship as a motive, more inclined to cover party conventions and caucuses. There was something very telling and disturbing when Ted Koppel walked out of the Republican National Convention in San Diego in 1996 because, he said, there was "no news" there. Bob Dole was going to be nominated. That had been decided ahead of time. That was the only story and it was already written.

So if you cover the Red Sox or the Cubs, and you know before opening day that the team is going to break your heart and you just haven't figured out yet how, do you go home? No, you don't. The sports team has a great deal to do with the life of the community you live in, and those players and coaches are full of stories about courage and folly and guts and triumph and despair.

But the language in which most Americans and almost all journalists think about parties is language we have inherited from the party-hating Mugwumps. Who now thinks of party loyalty as a virtue rather than an abnegation of responsibility?

I don't want to end with advice, as if I knew better than those of you who are actually doing the hard work. I want to end with gratitude for the work you are doing in civic journalism and the vision you are trying to build.

I actually don't think there is another group or association of journalists anywhere in the country that would have welcomed, even for 30 minutes, a disquisition on the changing nature of American citizenship. If there is, they haven't found my phone number yet.

So I salute you, I thank you, and I hope you will make your work in civic journalism a vehicle for rethinking citizenship. There will be no re-engaging citizens without rethinking citizenship and recapturing its multiple meanings that our American heritage has provided us. Thank you.

Question & Answer Session
Q: What do you think of the election of Jesse Ventura, in terms of political parties?

A: It seems to me, based on very little information, it's certainly sending a message that the parties are disconnected from their constituents. It seemed to me for a long time that the power of television in the imagination of party organizations is misplaced. I don't know if I could prove that, but - this comes from growing up in Milwaukee with a little brother who started collecting campaign buttons in the Kennedy-Nixon era. Where are the campaign buttons? There's a sharp decline in campaign buttons, less so in bumper stickers.

But the campaign button did something. It wasn't much but it was there on your lapel and whether you're standing at the bus stop or at the workplace, it announced a modest but real level of identification and participation. If you take all the money away from the campaign buttons, which apparently has been done, and put it into TV ads, that's a way of distancing the political process from the ordinary citizen.

Q: Have you looked at mandatory voting? Do you find it places more value on citizen voting, particularly if there's a fine involved?

A: As I understand the story on mandatory voting, it's interesting. Yes, it increases voter turnout. But it increases voter turnout even where the fine is trivial or easily avoidable. So maybe the fine is $25 and all you have to do is send in a postcard saying, "Sorry, I'm sick," and you don't have to pay the fine. And still it increases voter turnout enormously.

Now if low voter turnout were truly what we worried about, rather than somehow a kind of symptom of what we worried about, we could change that. There are perfectly acceptable democratic countries that require it - Australia for one. We got the ballot from them, maybe we could get mandatory voting from them.

Q: We're not going to go back to political parties as the be-all and end-all, so where do we go, going forward?

A: The parties were corrupt in a variety of ways. They were also quite successful in mobilizing citizens. And "the informed citizen" model has never been successful in that. It's always been a Sisyphian struggle to roll the boulder of information up the hill.

One response is: let's just work harder. I guess that's the modern Mugwump response. But a second response has been that of some hard-nosed political scientists who say actually people make very rational decisions at the polls, even when they don't have any information. That's a response worth taking seriously, too. The idea is: there is not a citizen of California who reads this (election pamphlet), not all the way through.

But you do read part of it and what you read is: Here's Prop. 226, political contributions by employees, union members, foreign entities initiative statute. There's a little argument made in favor of it, signed by Pete Wilson, and there's a little argument made against it, signed by a variety of citizen groups. I know what I think about Pete Wilson. If he's in favor of it, I'm probably against it. [Laughter.]

My response is somewhat different, which is to say the part of the civic journalism that I've been somewhat critical of - I've been very impressed and even awed by what I see of civic journalism's analysis of the difficulties and problems of the news media today - I've been less taken with what I see as sometimes an adoption of communitarian philosophy. In my view, it gets tied up with - I don't know if this is true of every civic , I know it's not - a sense that rights-oriented efforts, which in my view are responsible for more progress in American society over the past 50 years than anything else, have gone too far. We have to get away from that. There's something too selfish about a rights orientation.

I don't think so ... If you accept my notion that a rights orientation should be leveraged rather than opposed, it might mean that when the newspaper publishes a list of how to contact your local representatives, it includes also the U.S. Attorney's office or the civil rights division of the Attorney General's Office.

Q: Can you think of other prescriptions to help the news media meet its responsibility in democracy?

A: ...In my general view, there's a kind of unthinking populism in the press that should be looking for the varieties of expertise and thinking about where expertise belongs and how to use it. The press uses experts all the time. So-and-so, spokesman for such-and-such think tank.

We're almost never told what that think tank is. Is it a left-wing think tank? Is it a right-wing think tank? Well, insiders know. But the public is not let in on that. If we say the American Enterprise Institute is right wing, it is. But you know, there's some variation among them. What does that mean?

Are we going to be criticized for that? Are we going to lose that source? I think the ways in which expertise is talked about have never really been developed. Certainly in my circles, among communication researchers, there's a kind of ritual obeisance to John Dewey was right; Walter Lippman liked experts too much, he was wrong.

I think that's wrong. Dewey conceded about 99 percent of Lippman's case and rightly so. We're not going to run this world without experts. But can we clarify who they are? Can we report on them? We'll have to use other experts to do so, no doubt, but why not? I mean, universities should be muck-raked, too. Not mine, but... [Laughter]

Q: What importance do you assign to the informal associational aspects, participating in the PTA or community organizations? And what role do you see for the press in fostering or not fostering that?

A: On this point I definitely disagree with George Washington. I think civil society, voluntary associations, are essential for a modern democracy. This includes, by the way, special interest groups. We tend to say voluntary association groups are good, special interest groups are bad. But they're the same group half the time.

So we may need to change our political rhetoric in some ways here. The whole movement in social theory and civic journalism over the past 20 years, to move away from a kind of binary model of the world (there's the state and there's the market) to a triumvirate (there's the state, there's the market and civic society) has been wonderfully important, it seems to me. We learned a lot, in this respect, from Eastern Europe where the state was all-powerful, the market didn't exist, and yet something enormously important happened and it happened through civil society. It happened through people getting together and talking in discussion groups.

It does seem to me that this is one of public journalism's great successes, to call attention to that part of our every-day lives.

To order a copy of...

"The Good Citizen"
Hard Cover: Free Press,
1-800-223-2336, $27.50
Paperback: Harvard University Press, $17.95.
Call 1-800-448-2242 or
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