If it is true, as we read in Proverbs,
that "pride goeth before a fall..." I must watch my step this evening for I
acknowledge bald and unabashed pride in having my name linked with that of
Lovejoy; minister, journalist and editor whose transcendent strength of
character gave him the vivid insight to expose the evil of his time -- the
evil of all time.
If you think of him as I have in recent days, you
must wonder where it came from -- the commitment to stand against the
depraved institution of slavery that had poisoned the soul of our nation
and mocked our Constitutional commitment to the spirit of human
Where indeed did it come from -- the conviction that he by
exercising a nation's right of press freedom could help break the chains
that enslaved a human race.
Where did it come from -- that courage to
face the armed Alton mob, whose barbarous notion was that by murdering a
man and destroying his machine, a printing press, they could kill an
I hope and believe you here at Colby fully appreciate that with
this award in his name where racism resides, a place where once a year we
are reminded that the five bullets that snuffed out Parish Lovejoy's life
at age 34 could not murder the cause of racial justice for which he stood,
nor destroy the concept of free expression for which he died.
I thank you and tell you, remembering that without pride Bob Dole fell from
a campaign platform that I will step carefully and pridefully from this
stage this evening.
It seems to me, given my own long years as a
journalist and editor, that it would be a profanation of all Lovejoy was
about in his brief years as an editor not to devote the burden of my
remarks this evening to some thoughts about what currently is the state of
the institution of the press -- its changing culture and its unchanging
challenge in the face of society's changing nature.
Of course, no
longer is it possible for us to speak of the press with an image of the
machine the mob came to destroy that night almost 160 years ago at the
riverfront warehouse in Illinois.
The institution generically called
the press, today embodies and embraces an electronic wonder-world which is
a vital and indeed dominant part of the news media. This press, this news
media, and all its parts are distinctly different from the traditional
printing world Lovejoy knew -- but certainly that "press" institution and
all its parts are entitled to every protection insured by the 45 words of
the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Protection is a hollow word
when we think of Parish Lovejoy. But his death gave it meaning that still
has vibrant life for all the media more than a century and a half
And the challenge for those professional journalists who work
inside this now multi-faceted institution of the press is
To inform and enlighten themselves so that they may
inform and enlighten citizens in this democratic society on matters that
affect their lives and even, at times, their
That challenge to inform and enlighten is so
basic, so obvious, so elemental as to beg discussion much less argument,
but the change in the culture of news and the change in the nature of
society as we approach the 21st Century have made the basic, fragile; the
obvious, obscure; the elemental, complex.
These changes in society's
nature are visible and dramatic and must present journalists with questions
as to how they must meet the challenge to inform and enlighten.
most profound change, it seems to me, is the movement by women away from
the hearth and homeplace into the market and workplace.
It is a change
that alters long-accepted "habits" of the gender that makes up a majority
of our population.
The alterations in their way of life intimately
affects how they spend their time, which includes, of course, time to have
the press inform and enlighten them.
More than ever before, their time
is limited. And their information needs are different as they assume new
Many of them are sole breadwinners and parents as well.
Most of them continure to be homemakers as well as salaried
Now, I do not suggest that this change, which obviously will
continue as the glass ceiling shatters, should lead any editor or news
director to totally revamp the content of the newspaper or the
On the other hand, to ignore the news and information needs
of this growing group of the populace is to callously invite them to
cancel the subscription, tune out the program or turn it off.
weighing that, we should remember that every demographic report on the
outcome of the recent election suggests that Bill Clinton's success was
tied to the votes of women. The gender gap was palpable and the decision of
women was clearly discriminating.
Perhaps less demanding as an
editorial consideration is the change affecting those citizens who are
older. For those in print journalism, these are the most faithful and loyal
Still, they should not be taken for granted. Like women
in the workplace, many of their news and information needs are unique to
the changes in their lives -- and as their life cycle continues to extend,
their interests will change again. It would be a mistake for the news media
to ignore those changes affecting them.
It is not unlikely that there
will be a social conflict in our country in the next decade as the
political needs of older citizens intensify and as the burden of supporting
those political needs confront those who remain in the workplace. That
potential conflict should not be ignored as the news media meet the
challenge to inform and enlighten.
In another direction, the expansion
of new media technology must remind us of the changing information needs of
the enlarged and enlarging group that now seems destined to become a
vulnerable underclass caught in circumstances that portend a marginal
education, marginal opportunities and mraginal productive lives.
of those trapped already in that underclass have long since canceled
subscriptions (if they ever had them), tuned the media out and turned it
Among them, semi-literacy is highest and the psychological
barriers presented them by the new technology raise those barriers,
compounding the economic limitations that bar them access to the news and
And while there is a definable growing
African American middle class, still an unfair and unfortuna number of the
underclass are people of color.
Yes, many of their news and information
needs are unique. It is difficult to interface with those who find
irrelevant much of what they read and see and hear from the mdeia. But
they, of all the rest, need to be enlightened and informed about matters
that affect their lives and liberty and this presents the news media with
the largest measure of its challenge.
Finally, I would speak of that
group of citizens whose news and information needs are crucial to the
future of a democratic society -- those who never have subscribed already
have tuned out and turned off the news -- the young.
The changes in the
lives of that generation are constantly in the news. You know the litany.
Drugs, pregnancy, permissiveness, parental neglect, academic pressures -- a
poll out just this week reports that 25% of those in their teens have
considered suicide. I heard of that poll only a few days after reading a
poem Parish Lovejoy wrote of himself and his youth:
that knew him, few but judged him wrong
he was of silent and unsocial
Unloving and unloved he passed along."
I wonder had
he grown up in this generation, of that mood, how he would have responded
to that poll.
And so the news media report about this new generation
but rarely have an opportunity to report to them. They are a visual
generation, addicted to the tube.
But they are discerning and
disinterested -- and they are channel surfers. Routinely, they pass the
news media right on by.
For two decades, editors, and I was one of
them, struggled with strategies to attract their attnetion. it has been and
is a frustrating exercise.
It is possible that their fascination, often
their preoccupation, with the new technology -- the wonder of exploring the
web, the fascination of interacting on the net -- will provoke a new
interest in the written word and will provide a new chance to devise a
workable strategy for the press to reach them.
In any case, we ignore
their news and information needs at society's peril.
And again, the
responsibility to meet the challenge to enlighten and inform is abdicated
if workable ways are not found to inform and enlighten them about matters
that affect their lives and liberty.
Now I am aware that it is
impossible and, more than that, unwise to turn to the newspaper or the
newscast into segmented parts that cater to the news and information needs
of demographic groups, whatever changes affect their lives.
I am not
suggesting thirty column inches for women, thirty more for seniors, thirty
more for the underclass, thirty more for the rising Black middle class, adn
thirty more for the young any more than I suggest thirty column inches for
the cops and thirty column inches for the robbers.
In truth, many of
the news and information needs of all those affected by the changes in
society's nature arethe same; some overlap; most are identical to the needs
of the general population. I know that there are intelligent reporters,
editors, news director and producers who are aware of nuances involved, the
trends and changes and seek to address them.
Some of them acknowledge
they are late in meeting changes that have subtly crept up on society. The
problem is that in each demographic case, trend lines project further
change and the problem for the news media in meeting its challenge is not
how to catch up but how to get
Now just a few thoughts about changes in the culture of the news media.
At the top of
the agenda is the reality of changing media ownership by corporate
interests with no background or history or interest in news as a business
or a profession.
Obviously, here I am focusing on the television
industry with ABC now owned by Disney, CBS by Westinghouse, NBC by General
Electric and CNN by Time Warner.
Such mega-mergers obviously mean
cultural change at the top level of management.
Every poll of corporate
executives in the last decade-and-a-half has reflected disenchantment and
even dislike of the news media.
So what does that cultural change in
the boardroom mean? And what are the implications for the newsroom?
thing it has not meant and hopefully will not mean is a change in the
culture of the newsroom or the studio. Those venues remain inhabited by
professional journalists whose commitment to news values is part of the
very core of their being. Their careers are committed to traditional news
It is impossible to tell when or if there will be clashes
between these two cultures; one the corporate, the other,
Twice in the last year we have seen networks cave-in in
the face of legal threats or actions by tobacco companies. The most
disturbing, in my view, came as the ABC/Disney merger was pending at the
same time a multi-million dollar defamation suit was pending.
moment, I had agreed to testify as an expert witness for the network.
remember the pain in the voice of a confident First Amendment lawyer for
the network when he called to say that his client had folded, and I know
that professional journalists who had worked that story suffered and suffer
Now an occasional incident does not a habit make. It may be that
managers of these merged media giants will learn and will not force a clash
of cultures between the boardroom and the newsroom.
But we must worry
because some of these corporations have various holdings. Some, for
example, are involved in defense contracting, some in the nuclear industry,
some in entertainment. These areas of corporate enterprise have frequently
been criticized by the networks. What happens now when such a critical
story is on the news budget? Must it be cleared "upstairs?" Must it be
edited by a non-editor and lawyered by a corporate rather than First
Amendment lawyer? Or will the mere reality of what the merger means chill
the news process through self-censorship?
Chris Wallace, the ABC
correspondent who had reported critically on Disney before the merger,
recently wondered whether he would have been able to do so after the
Now most of the large newspaper chains remain in the hands of
managers whose careers have been built around involvement in the news as a
business -- and many of them as news as a profession.
corporations which are publicly owned with stocks traded on Wall Street,
are in no sense immune to the same threat of mergers that have touched all
four networks -- those by interests with no involvement in news as a
business or profession.
And because they are traded on the big board,
newsrooms have been and are affected by pressures from the bottom
Journalists who saw budgets shrink during recessions know what
that means for the challenge to enlighten and inform.
And there is
other cultural change of grave concern.
Thoughtful critics of the news
media point with concern to the news media's growing penchant for
entertainment as news. It must concern us all.
Still others are gravely
concerned with the growing fascination of gossip as news. That must concern
Others worry about something called civic journalism. And so
should we all. It is the practice which includes encouraging journalists
and editors to involve themselves in the work and decision making of civic
institutions, civic projects, civic programs on which the news media must
The conflict to me is obvious, but not to those caught up in
what civic journalism is about.
This new movement includes, for
example, the suggestion that journalists poll their communities to
determine what readers want to read and see and hear -- and then follow the
I favor strongly the idea that journalists must work and
research to understand for themselves the changing news needs of their
communities -- an act to meet those needs. Some major news comapnies such
as Gannett, Knight Ridder and Scripps Howard have formulated programs to do
that very thing. That makes sense. But I do not favor abdicating the
journalistic responsibility of reporter and editor. That is what civic
journalism means to many news organizations. That makes no sense.
shudder to think what the public response would have been had Parish
lovejoy conducted a poll on the question of abolition and adhered to the
findings of the Alton community.
One final concern that touches the
change in the culture of the news media is occurring in institutions called
"journalism and mass communications schools" all across the country. In too
many cases, they are schools of communications and are forfeiting interest
in and, in fact, demeaning journalism as a profession.
practiced in these schools is that it is sufficient to train all students
to become communicators for the New Information Age. They reject the
traditional theory that society needs a core of professional information
gatherers and newswriters and broadcasters to meet the challenge to
enlighten and inform.
This trend toward "communicology" is documented
by Betty Medsger, a veteran journalist and immediate past chair of the
journalism department of San Francisco State University.
thre remain some schools of journalism still dedicated to the ideal that
standards and values and ethics are important to those who commit careers
to the challenge of the news media to enlighten and inform. But news
organizations must be aware of the need to reach out to liberal arts
institutions for talented, informed journalists whose careers will be
committed to that challenge to enlighten and inform.
As I consider the
sum of what I have said over the last twenty minutes, it strikes me that I
seem to be the cranky old critic -- the editor whose time passed him byb --
who holds out little hope for the future of journalism.
contrary, as I look at newsrooms around the country today, both print and
electronic, I find there a wealth of talent -- young men and women diverse
in background who are better educated, better trained, more independent
minded, more dedicated to fairness and accuracy in reporting, more
committed to the challenge to enlighten and inform than at any time in the
45 years I have been associated with the news media. I am proud to say my
son and namesake is one of those.
I am encouraged by the presence of
three national news networks -- two of them new entries, MSNBC and Fox,
which added to CNN promises great competition in the marketplace of
And I am encouraged as I talk with editors and responsible news
executives from all elements of the media who understand the challenge
presented by change and who will never surrender their integrity to fads or
whims or triviality.
But one last word of caution -- in all of this
change in the nature of society and in the culture of the press, there
remains the always present threat of government regulation.
technology with all of its mystique intimidates and frightens those in
government who do not unnderstand it. Not since Congress wrote those five
words has there been a subsequent Congerss that understood what those words
meant: "Congress shall make no law."
The last Congress was, and the one
to come will be, promoting and even pushing laws to regulate and to censor
the mdeia. They forget, but Elijah Lovejoy never did, and we never should,
the words of James Madison, the Father of the Bill of
"Nothing could be more irrational than to give
people power and withhold from them information without which power is
abused...a popular government without popular information or the means of
acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or tragedy or perhaps
Nor did Lovejoy forget, and we should not, the
words of Madisn's mentor Thomas Jefferson who said:
nation expects to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never
Letter, Rebuttal to John
By Edward M. Fouhy
Pew Center for Civic
November 25, 1996
First Amendment Center
1207 18th Ave.,
Nashville, Tennessee 37212
speech has just reached me. I admire as always your eloquence, passion and
deep commitment to the principles of journalism.
There is a passage I
want to argue with, however. "[Civic journalism] is the practice which
includes encouraging journalists and editors to involve themselves in the
work and decision making of civic institutions, civic projects, civic
programs on which the news media must report."
What that passage says
is simply not consistent with the evidence. We at the Pew Center stay in
touch with civic journalism projects in 34 newspapers, which we have helped
to get started over the last three years, and we administer an annual prize
that last year drew 101 entries from media partnerships practicing the
principles of civic journalism. I have yet to see a single instance where
the editors "involved themselves in the work and decision-making of civic
I was particularly taken with your description of the
challenge facing the press today, "To inform and enlighten themselves so
that they may inform and enlighten citizens in this democratic society on
matters that affect their lives and even, at times, their liberty." Later
you say that every one should worry about "something called civic
journalism." Strange, because my definition of civic journalism is:
a professional attitude, an outlook that
says the role of journalism in a
democratic society is to
provide information on which citizens may base the
they must make in a self-governing society about matters that
affect their lives."
As George Wallace used to say,
there's not a dime's worth of difference between what you say the challenge
is and what I define civic journalism to be. Now I wouldn't claim that
civic journalism is the answer to every one of the ills of contemporary,
market-driven journalism but I think if you talk to the editors who have
brought its ethic into their newsrooms you will find many who think it's
helping to meet the Siegenthaler challenge.
The reason I'm writing is
simply to point out that civic journalism is not what you apparently think
it is. I concede that some of the early experiments weren't very good. But
isn't that what experiments are for? People learn from their failures and
move on. More recently there has been some sloppy reporting done that has
left good people scratching their heads. As Buzz Merritt of the Wichita
Eagle likes to says, "It's had journalism done to it."
You go on
to say, "This new movement includes...the suggestion that journalists poll
their communities to determine what readers want to see and hear -- and
then follow the graph lines."
No editor I know has handed his
responsibility for what goes into his paper to a pollster or a focus group,
and to suggest that the editors who have brought the principles of civic
journalism into their newsrooms are ceding their responsibility, is simply
Using the whole range of techniques that are now available
to us to learn what's on the public's mind is simply good journalism. As
you pointed out in your speech there are several groups that are turning
away from the news media, isolating themselves; the young, the old, the
underclass and working women. I believe when they do that they deepen the
poverty of spirit and disrupt the sense of community so essential to the
health of democracy. I am not alone in that belief. For reasons ranging
from altruism to survival many journalists are trying to understand why
these groups are alienated and to do that they are using the tools of
opinion research -- polls and focus groups. No one questions that. It's
simply a rational response to the problem of fading audiences. Yet for some
reason when the same tools are used--along with others like town meetings
and living room conversations -- to determine what's on the citizens'
agenda, critics put on their war paint and howl for the scalps of editors
who are "selling out."
For the many years I traveled the political
trail for CBS, I did what many of my fellow national political reporters
did, I asked the cab driver who picked me up at the airport to give me his
assessment of the local political race. A crude tool, but why miss an
opportunity to listen to a voter's voice? Using polling and focus groups
and other means to get a better understanding of a citizen's agenda is
taking a quantum next step from the taxi interview. To ignore the public's
concerns isn't good journalism, it's ignorance. Charlotte Observer
editor Jennie Buckner wrote recently, "We feel we're capable of being
informed by polls without being slaves to them. Ignorance about citizen
concerns is not bliss; it's simply ignorance. And getting the citizen's
point of view into the newspaper and on the air is what civic journalism is
You said you shuddered to think about the public response
to Lovejoy if he had polled the citizens of Alton on the subject of
abolition. I suspect he did poll the citizens of Alton every day because he
faced them every day. Unfortunately most editors today don't live in towns
small enough to get a sense of what people think.
Here are a couple of
questions I would like to ask Parish Lovejoy even as I shudder to think how
he would answer them.
What do you think of journalism that has become
so market-driven, consultant-driven, homogenized, dumbed-down, arrogant and
alienated from its readers that they no longer trust journalists?
do you think of editors who edit to please this or that demographic group?
What do you think of TV news producers who pander to the public's fear
of crime by sensationalizing and hyping even minor crimes?
What do you
think of journalists who go on television to mud wrestle other journalists
on phony "Crossfire" shows?
What's to be done about journalists who
are paid big bucks to give speeches to groups they may have to cover in the
future yet refuse even to disclose who the groups are and how much they
What do you think of an industry that has allowed itself to be
swallowed by Wall Street money managers who demand profit margins 15-20
points higher than most other industries consider a reasonable profit?
The generosity of the Pew Charitable Trusts has allowed me to spend
the last three years traveling and talking to journalists--both print and
broadcast--about the idea of civic journalism. It's an idea that's been
well received in some quarters, skeptically received in others and greeted
with open hostility in still others. I can understand the skepticism. It's
the hostility that has surprised and saddened me.
To put it in pure
marketing terms, an industry that is losing customers, as the news business
is, usually tries to figure out what it's doing wrong, why the public has
turned away. But some practitioners of the craft of journalism have decided
not even to try to figure out what's wrong (which is a dumb but defensible
strategy). Still others -- and I don't put you in this group -- attack the
motives of the people who are trying to deal with the public's
disenchantment. Jim Fallows says he feels as though he stirred up "a puff
adder's nest" by writing what is really a rather mild critique of his
Can it be that the people who daily report on change, who judge
the ethics of others, who use words like thin-skinned, arrogant and
detached to describe public officials, cannot see cope with their own
I look forward to continuing this discussion because I
believe that while you and I may differ on the prescription for what ails
journalism, we are united in our concern for the health of our craft.
Edward M. Fouhy