MR. FOUHY: Thank you,
My job is to talk and your job is to listen. And if you finish before I do,
please let me know.
ED FOUHY: Jack Nelson just gave me that line. Thank you, Jack. I actually
had the present task of introducing Rebecca Rimel to this group today, but I
understand her flight was cancelled coming here from Philadelphia. It was diverted
to Boston. So she may be giving a speech up at Harvard today for all I know,
but she's clearly not here. But we're going to have Don Kimelman as a pinch
I wanted to reminisce a little bit, if I may ask your indulgence, about the
founding of the Pew Center and how I first got involved in this enterprise called
civic journalism back in 1993. I was invited to a meeting at something called
The Pew Charitable Trusts in Philadelphia. I had no idea what this trust thing
was, but I did a little sleuthing, as journalists are supposed to do, and I
found out it's a rather unusual name for a big foundation.
Well, I had no experience whatsoever with foundations, but I did what journalists
always do, and that is I reverted to a stereotype that I carried around in my
head. And I went to Philadelphia and I expected to see a lot of granola-gobbling,
Earth shoe-wearing tree huggers.
Well, that's not quite what I found, of course. It turns out that Pew has
its headquarters in a very snazzy skyscraper in downtown Philadelphia in a suite
of offices that was once occupied by IBM. It's very corporate looking, and it's
full of a lot of sleek, well-dressed, well-coiffed people. And if they were
wearing Earth shoes, they were high-heeled Earth shoes the day I was there.
At the end of the discussion to which I had been invited, Rebecca approached
me. And in her charming Virginia accent, attempted to convince me that I know
a lot of things that she doesn't know. I have since learned that that is not
true. But a southern accent is to a woman what a set of Woody Allen or Mike
Dukakis little shoulders are to a man, a very disarming asset.
Needless to say, Rebecca was able to convince me of my alleged superior knowledge
about journalism and got me pontificating about the state of the craft. And
I called on my Washington experience, where I worked for 30 years, to begin
blabbing about the disconnect that had become so apparent in the presidential
campaign just past between what people needed to know about the candidates and
what the press was reporting about the candidates.
Anyway, a few days later I got a call from Pew asking if I would stop what
I was doing, which is to say I was making a living, and asked me to run around
the country for six months getting in touch with the few journalists, comparatively
few journalists, who were starting to think about that disconnect and how it
might be fixed.
I was skeptical that I could do very much to change the course of the big
ship media, but Rebecca then unleashed upon me a human dynamo by the name of
Tamar Datan. Tamar did the convincing and later helped me to navigate this new
foundation world that I found I liked. And she taught me something.
She said that when you are in the foundation world and you're dealing with
people who are working for grants, two things happen when they get a grant.
First they say the grant is too small. There's not enough money. The second
thing is they never, never say thank you. I'll come back to that in a minute.
At one point, perhaps with my mortgage banker in mind, I asked Rebecca how
long this project was going to last. And she said, rather airily, oh, about
10 years. That made me feel better about my mortgage, of course, but secretly
I thought I could fix the media a lot faster than that. Middle-age self-delusion,
we all suffer from it.
As I roamed about the country that first year, I met people like Buzz Merritt,
then editor of The Wichita Eagle, Frank Denton, Neil Heinen, Dave Iverson
out in Wisconsin, Cole Campbell, then editor of The Virginian-Pilot.
They're all in this room today. They had begun to think about doing journalism
a little bit differently and they had a lot of good ideas about connecting better
with their readers and their viewers.
In the universities I found Jay Rosen and Phil Meyer here at Chapel Hill.
They were doing some very heavy thinking about the same subject.
And later I learned that Rebecca had connected with Jim Batten, who was at
that time president of the Knight Ridder newspapers. They found that they shared
a vision of an active and engaged citizenry living in a civil society and participating
in democracy. Participating in democracy, not just watching it from the sidelines.
They were both alarmed by the growing evidence of the withdrawal of many Americans
into tiny enclaves of self-interest. They feared out there in the tractless
suburbs that surround every big city that the tradition of civic engagement
was beginning to die.
Out of the conversations that they had and the ones that I began to have were
some of Knight Ridder's top people like Jennie Buckner, who you heard from this
morning, and Clark Hoyt, who was then in the Washington bureau, journalists
who were on the front lines of the battle to engage readers as citizens. The
notion of civic journalism began to take shape, and by that summer the Pew Center
for Civic Journalism was born.
The reception it received from the big media was not, shall I say, very encouraging.
Some people seemed to want to strangle that baby in its crib. But people like
Hodding Carter and Jan Schaffer rallied to the banner. And when people like
that are on your side, there is simply no one who is going to stand in your
Nonetheless, it wasn't easy being on the receiving end of the skepticism and
hostility that civic journalism seemed to generate for some reason among some
people. As the president of the foundation that had founded this effort, Rebecca
Rimel was the lightning rod for much of the criticism, probably far more of
the criticism than she ever passed on to us.
But she never wavered. She never expressed any doubt whatsoever about the
course that we had chosen to follow. Her notes and calls, and they were frequent,
were always encouraging. She was our cheerleader, as well as our chaplain.
When the time came to renew the grant, Don Kimelman was there for Rebecca
with more encouragement and more support. And so it has gone. The grant has
twice been renewed, each time with an increase. That funding has allowed the
Center to create this marvelous award and to recognize the newspapers and stations
that are engaged in serving the public needs of their communities. And it's
also served to memorialize one of the greatest journalists of my generation,
Jim Batten. His widow, Jean, is sitting right here with us today.
Pew's support has also fueled well over 120 journalism experiments and laboratories
at newspapers and television stations around the country. Think of that, 120
of these experiments like the ones you saw this morning. Civic journalism workshops
now routinely sell out all over the country, and they attract the best and brightest
journalists. Overseas, the amazing thing to me is the idea of civic journalism
has caught on in an amazing way, especially in the emerging democracies in Eastern
Europe and in Africa.
Meanwhile, Hodding Carter and I have gone on to other roles in journalism.
But under the brilliant leadership of Jan Schaffer, with Jack Nelson at her
side, the Pew Center has enjoyed success beyond our wildest dreams back in 1993.
The winners here today, I think, personify that success.
Let me end with an anecdote. Last week I was in California, both north and
south. Evidence of the Pew Center's work was everywhere. I read in the San Francisco
Chronicle last Sunday, for example, that it had just renewed a partnership with
KTVU in Oakland to tackle some of the thorniest problems in the Bay area.
On Monday, I read the Orange County Register's mission statement. It could
have been written at the Pew Center or by Phil Meyer here at the University
of North Carolina. That mission statement appears in the paper every day and
it says that it pledges to respect and respond to the ideas of its readers within
24 hours. And at the end of every local story, the writer's e-mail address is
listed and readers are encouraged to contact the writer and to send their comments.
Few, if any, readers of those newspapers, I'm sure, realize that those ideas
originated, or at least incubated, at the Pew Center for Civic Journalism.
They say that success has 1,000 fathers and failure is an orphan. In this
case, the idea of civic journalism, I'm sure has 1,000 fathers. But there really
is only one mother. So let me ask you all to join with me in breaking a tradition
of ungrateful grantees and say thank you to The Pew Charitable Trusts.
ED FOUHY: Don Kimelman.
DON KIMELMAN: Let me begin by saying how much Rebecca Rimel deeply
regrets not being here. This is a project that's meant a lot to her, both personally
and professionally. I think anyone who knows Rebecca, and you got a little sense
of her from Ed's remarks, you wouldn't have wanted to be working the desk at
American Airlines this morning when she was informed that her flight was not
I was informed by nine o'clock that I'd be giving this address, and the address
arrived by fax, and traveled more easily obviously than Rebecca could have.
I was trying to figure out how can I prepare you all for the notion of my being
up here and being Rebecca, and delivering her speech. I thought of a moment
about a year ago when I had gone to the Opera Company of Philadelphia at the
Academy of Music to hear them sing the Magic Flute. Just before the curtain
went up Robert Driver, who is the very entrepreneurial head of the opera company,
came out and said we had a little problem today-I got a call at eight o'clock
this morning from the lead tenor, who in a whisper told me he had laryngitis
and he can't be on tonight.
So Driver immediately got to work, made some phone calls, located another
tenor in New York, got him on the four o'clock train down to Philadelphia. The
tenor, like any good tenor, knew all the singing in the Magic Flute. But the
Magic Flute also has speaking parts. So the compromise was that when the show
went on, the tenor would sing. And then when it came time to speak, Mr. Driver
would walk out from the wings in his suit and his bow tie and he would read
the remarks in perfect German and then he would retire. The tenor, who was frozen,
would then go back to his singing.
So you have to think of me as the guy in the bow tie, trying to help the show
go on here.
Speaking for Rebecca now. Today, I'm not going to carry coals to Newcastle.
We all know the vital role that newspapers pay in their communities, how thoughtful
issue-based reporting reconnects readers to public life. Like you, The Pew Charitable
Trusts sees civic journalism as a means to an end, compelling citizens to get
involved, to volunteer, and especially to vote.
But the hurdles are high. Civic apathy, unfortunately, is alive and growing.
Just over 54 percent of all citizens voted in the 2000 presidential election,
and the figures are worse among young people. 32 percent of 18-to-24 year olds
voted in the 2000 presidential election.
Unfortunately, there is no indication of a voting upturn since September 11th.
Indeed, we're seeing the opposite. In the two gubernatorial races one month
after the attacks, overall voter turnout decreased. Virginia's dropped to 46
percent, down from 49 percent in 1997 and 60 percent in 1993. New Jersey's dropped
to 49 percent, down from 56 percent in 1997 and 65 percent in 1993.
While the debate continues about the appropriate tools of the trade for journalists
in informing and engaging citizens, I trust there's little doubt about the critical
role of the profession to the health of our civic life. Reading the news leads
to more vibrant citizen engagement. A free press is a keystone to a healthy
democracy. Why else would it enjoy the freedoms and protections afforded to
The 2002 Batten Award winners, and those that came before, represent journalism
at its best. I think we all got a sense of that a little while ago at the presentation.
They're challenging readers to reengage in democracy. So I'm honored to join
you today in celebrating their accomplishments and reflect on the lessons learned
through 10 years of civic journalism.
The first Batten Awards honored the project's namesake, James K. Batten, who
many of you remember as a gentleman's gentleman. He never forgot his reporting
roots, even when he was heading Knight Ridder. During Hurricane Andrew, Jim
Batten and other Knight Ridder executives hit the streets to deliver The
Miami Herald. That's just one example of his commitment to reaching citizens
with the news.
Jim had a clear and balanced understanding of the link between a newspaper
and the health of its community. He realized that civic or public journalism
could revitalize citizenship. He knew journalism has the power to inform and
motivate or to discourage and discredit. Jim understood well that with such
power comes a heavy burden of responsibility.
Jim was honored posthumously at the first ceremony in 1995. Today we welcome
Jean Batten and her son, Taylor, who much to his family's delight, has followed
in Jim's journalism footsteps as an editor at The Charlotte Observer.
Jean, when you accepted the first Batten Award in Jim's name, this is how you
described him. "A newspaperman who believed papers had a responsibility for
helping nurture a healthy civic culture, giving citizens grounds for legitimate
hope and encouragement as they worked together for a better future."
I think Jim would be proud of what we've accomplished together, especially
in light of civic journalism's early days. It hasn't been an easy road. We've
taken our share of knocks, some funny, others cutting. Some quotes: soft-headed,
just a fad, bastardized blend of marketing and opinion, and my favorite, not
a bad imitation of a conspiracy.
DON KIMELMAN: Believe me, I've been awestruck. Over the last 10 years
I, Rebecca, have been interviewed and challenged more on civic journalism than
on any other issue that the Trusts has been involved in. That includes campaign
finance reform, global warming, saving the oceans, and 15 other policy issues
Some question the motives of the movement. Some wanted to debate the tools
and the techniques. Still others just didn't or wouldn't get it. But never was
the idea of civic journalism dismissed out of hand. Its guiding principles over
the decade have remained steadfast, embracing journalism's responsibility for
public life by advancing high quality reporting on issues relevant to readers;
empowering citizens to act by giving them accurate, useful, compelling news;
accepting accountability, whether on the part of the public officials, citizens
or the fellow journalists; renewing civic engagement and creating a more vibrant
To be fair, there was learning on both sides. Civic journalism advocates grew
to understand some of the pitfalls of the practice. The movement's opponents
came to see civic journalism's benefits to newspapers and to communities. To
quote Ed Fouhy, it's been a heck of a ride, not without many high points and
memorable moments. Here are some samples, we asked Ed and Jan to give us some
of their memories.
Ed referred back to 1994, Grading Our Schools was a program in Rochester that
shed light on its failing education system. The residents gathered in high schools
across the city. They were connected by a TV satellite that confronted New York
state education officials on the issue of school quality. In Ed's word, this
event revealed civic journalism's power as a galvanizing force for citizen engagement.
Jan recalls 1997, the Portland (Maine) Press Herald broke the
silence about the state's alcohol addiction rates. 2,500 citizens worked with
the newspaper to hold more than 70 community roundtable discussions. They took
up the challenge of easing this terrible affliction, provoking what Jan calls
"enduring change" in that community.
Like many of us, Ed and Jan have both fond and forgettable memories of the
Pew Center for Civic Journalism's trailblazing days. They epitomize what author
Robert Half meant when he said persistence is what makes the impossible possible.
Ed and Jan, we owe you a debt of gratitude for launching us on our way, for
helping civic journalism find its voice, for shouldering the burden of controversy,
always with composure and candor about our efforts and with an understanding
that the movement benefited from experimentation and from debate.
Well, now civic journalism has arrived. It's regarded with acceptance and
in growing circles among journalists. Frank Denton, who is here today, the editor
of the Wisconsin State Journal, says civic journalism has so woven its
way into the fabric of American newsrooms that it's proven its way, even to
the critics. There's more than a nugget of truth to that statement.
And then we have Zack Stalberg, the editor of The Philadelphia Daily News,
I recall coming to a Batten Award a couple of years ago wearing a feather boa.
You don't see that a lot in journalism. Zack says, "I've become a true believer
in civic journalism and my conversion was a surprise to me." And if you knew
Zack, you'd understand that.
Rosemary Armao of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, she refers to the way
that civic journalism reaches out to ordinary citizens who are often the expert
sources of opinions and realities facing their communities. For the record,
back in 1995, Ms. Armao called civic journalism lazy, crude, naive, and dumb.
Those were the days.
I, Rebecca, would like to share one of my favorite civic journalism memories,
a prophetic one it turns out. Early on I asked Ed and Jim Batten how we would
measure our success with the civic journalism initiative. The response was quick
and clear. In 10 years, the techniques and tools of civic journalism and the
profession's commitment to this practice will find its way into most newsrooms
across the country. It will shape stories, becoming second nature to reporters
who practice this approach in their service to the public. Civic journalism
will be recognized as a valued and important tool for the profession, even if
the label changes or just fades away. I have to ask Ed, do you always see so
clearly into the future?
Since 1993, we have traveled a long, exciting, and occasionally rocky road,
but we're all wiser and better for it. More importantly, so is the public. It's
better informed, more engaged, has higher expectations of the press. This, of
course, is in communities where civic journalism is practiced.
The public is a true barometer of success and the measure of the power of
the press. At its best, journalism motivates citizens to lift their voices and
cast their votes. It combats what J. Howard Pew, a founder of the trust, calls
- and this is a phrase he coined during the McCarthy era - "subversive inactivity."
That is the lethargy of citizens who fail in their civic duty and in service
to their country.
Civic journalism is an arrow in our quiver in fighting subversive inactivity.
We see examples every day of its power to motivate citizens to change their
communities and improve their lives. At the Trusts, we feel privileged to have
helped in some way in supporting the work of civically committed journalists,
enabling them to become catalysts for citizen engagement and democratic renewal.
We've been fortunate to partner with Ed and Jan and the two illustrious board
chairs, Hodding Carter and Jack Nelson, and all of you, especially the recipients
of the Batten Award, including those that we recognize today.
I would also like to remember one of civic journalism's most outspoken and
outstanding proponents, Tom Winship, whose wisdom guided our early efforts and
whose service as chair of the Batten Award and his commitment to this work propelled
the movement toward its ultimate successes. Tom was a friend and a mentor to
many of us, and his advice was always on target.
For instance, after another in a string of less then favorable articles about
Pew and the press, Tom reminded me in his kind and direct way that this work
is not for wimps. He told me, me being Rebecca, the stakes are high, the opponents
have the ink, but the goal is compelling and the public good must be served.
We all heeded his words and stiffened our spines.
Now we can look back with pride on the accomplishments and contributions of
many citizens and communities nationwide. And yes, the press that informed,
motivated and engaged them in their civic work. The debate about civic journalism's
approach, tactics, and impact will continue. But the role of the press, and
giving the public news that it can be used to become more civically engaged
citizens will, I trust, never seem naive or inappropriate.
Each and every one of you deserves the credit for civic journalism's success.
As we anticipate the movement's next phase, I hope that all of us will be inspired
and encouraged in our work by Margaret Mead's admonishment, "Never doubt that
a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed,
it's the only thing that ever has."
JAN SCHAFFER: I have the pleasure of introducing Walker Lundy. Little
did we know, when we invited him to be our luncheon speaker, that the paper
that he left only recently, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, would be one
of this year's Batten Legacy Award winners for work done while he was the editor.
I think as you saw in the award presentations today, the Pioneer Press,
a Knight Ridder newspaper that publishes in one of the last competitive newspaper
markets in the U.S., has done stunning civic journalism projects over the decade.
Projects that kept inventing new ways to connect with the community. Book clubs,
resource guides, community conversations, multilingual polls.
In 1999, the paper was also a Batten Award winner, all this while going head-to-head
daily with the Minneapolis Star Tribune. And I venture to say that the
Pioneer Press had a smaller staff and probably fewer resources. But in Minnesota,
civic journalism is a competitive tool. The Star Trib does it. So do
Minnesota Public Television and Minnesota Public Radio, which was a Batten winner
Public service journalism is a competitive tool, too. And in the year 2000,
the Pioneer Press won the Pulitzer Prize for beat reporting for its expose of
widespread academic cheating in the University of Minnesota's men's basketball
team. It was the paper's third Pulitzer in 14 years.
Walker also received the National Press Foundation's Chairman citation in
'99 for the academic fraud investigation. The award has been given only three
times in the Foundation's 17-year history.
For eight consecutive years the St. Paul Pioneer Press has received
the Premack Award. It's the most prestigious public service journalism award
in the state of Minnesota.
Walker is a veteran of many papers over 35 years, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution,
the Detroit Free Press, The Charlotte Observer. He was editor
of the Tallahassee Democrat and Arkansas Gazette, managing editor
of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram before going to St. Paul.
I first met him when we were journalism fellows together in the mid-80s at
Stanford University where his wry humor kept our class in stitches. I hung out
at the Stanford Business School. Walker wanted to hang out with Stanford's computer
types. He clearly understood a lot more about what was to come than the rest
of us did.
In November, he was appointed editor and executive vice president of The
Philadelphia Inquirer, where I spent near 22 years as a reporter and editor.
It's a wonderful assignment for such a distinguished journalist. It's also a
The Inquirer is blessed with a remarkable legacy of enterprise journalism,
but its connections with its community are frayed. Circulation has taken a big
hit. I remember Philadelphia as a place where civic connection was synonymous
with civic employment: What politician can pull the right strings to get me
a city job? It was even better if I didn't have to show up for work. Ghost workers,
we used to call them.
And it was a place where nearly everything was for sale, even if it was FBI
agents posing as phony Arab sheiks who were making the payments in the form
of bribes in the old Abscam investigation. Things have improved but there are
great opportunities for the news organization. I think Walker will need every
tool in his toolbox to rebuild those connections.
We are honored to have him today to share his thoughts about the past and
the future. Thank you, Walker.
WALKER LUNDY: I'm from Philadelphia and I come to speak for the southern
As you can tell from my resumŽ, I've had my differences with publishers over
WALKER LUNDY: None, however, about public journalism.
I am very pleased to be here and to see so many familiar faces out there,
many of them friendly.
WALKER LUNDY: I am honored to be speaking at something named for Jim
Batten. Jim was a friend of mine for 25 years. I first met him that long ago
when I was city editor of the Detroit Free Press, and they told me that
some hotshot reporter from the Washington Bureau was going to come up to be
trained for greater things on the city desk at the Free Press. We thought
greater things meant maybe deputy city editor at the Free Press.
And so, because I was city editor and Jim was first assistant city editor,
I have said for 25 years that I taught him everything he knows. Some of you,
who don't know me, might actually believe that.
I also bring you greetings from the home of Ben Franklin and the cheesesteak.
And I want to make sure that you leave here with one solid practical fact that
you may, sometime in your life, have a chance to use. That is this: if you order
a cheesesteak, to begin with don't call it a Philly cheesesteak. That is redundant.
And then you say you either want it wit - that's w-i-t - wit or without. The
issue there is onions. Order it as per your taste. But if you say I want a cheesesteak
wit, you might pass for a Philadelphian.
This is also the city - and I'm not making this up. Their slogan a couple
of years ago was Philadelphia is not as bad as Philadelphians say it is.
WALKER LUNDY: Honest to God, I am not making that up. And the sad part
is, it's true.
Well, they decided after a couple of years, that that might not be a good
idea so they changed it to the current slogan - again, I am not making this
up, as Dave Barry likes to say. Now the slogan is the city that loves you back.
And I am not going there.
WALKER LUNDY: I was happy to see Jean Batten in the audience, and to
see Taylor, who looks so much like his father it's eerie. A number of you know
the great journalistic and CEO things that Jim did over his career. Those are
not the things that I remember about him. I remember - and I think, Jean, you
must have bought it for him - the time he wore the funny Russian hat to work
in the winter in Detroit. He showed up - you know the kind that the Russians
wear. And there's some people who can bring that look off and some people who
can't. And Jim can't.
He walked in the Free Press newsroom and it was your typical newsroom.
It was really forgiving and friendly and so forth.
WALKER LUNDY: And so he got off the elevator and I just remember the
whole place erupting into laughter. And Jim was really good at almost everything.
Having people laugh at him for a funny-looking hat was not one of those things
he was really good at.
So the hat disappeared. And the story was he continued to wear it because
he needed to wear it for Jean leaving the house. And he would wear it until
he got about a block from the paper and then he would stick it in his briefcase.
I also remember, I think it was about in 1975, when he was executive editor
of The Charlotte Observer which, in my mind, at the time was the best
job anybody could ever want. I was metro editor, sort of his whipping boy at
the time. He called me one Sunday afternoon and he said I want to meet you at
the Big Boy. He'd come back from Miami, he'd been down there for something.
He said I want to meet you at the Big Boy restaurant, I've got something to
So we sit down and he says I'm going to Miami to be a corporate vice president.
Well, to me as the metro editor, that was like saying I was going to enter a
nunnery. I mean, why would someone give up being editor of The Observer
to go be some lackey at corporate? And I asked him that in essentially those
He said well, his inclination had been to turn the job down because he thought
he had the best job in Knight Ridder. But then Lee Hills, who at that time I
think was CEO, asked to see him alone. They sat down and Lee said, "Jim, we're
deciding the next generation of leadership at Knight Ridder. There is either
going to be some editors in it or there are not. And there won't be any editors
if the editors won't accept these jobs and do the work." And Jim said, after
he said that, "I felt like I had no alternative but to accept the job."
And at the time, I still thought he was nuts. Since then I have come to think
that Mr. Hills put the right question to him and he made the right decision.
One of the things about Jim was that everybody sort of felt like they were
his best friend. And in a way they were. The reason was that he connected with
people. And if you asked me exactly what was it, I'm not sure I can tell you.
But he connected with people.
The worst tongue-lashing I have ever gotten from somebody was from Jim Batten.
And I've had publishers yell at me, I have had publishers threaten me, I have
had them - in a figurative sense - throw me out of their office. None of that
was as bad as when I'd go in and tell Jim something and he'd get that slightly
pained look on his face and then say, "Well, okay, where do we go from here?"
Getting that slight pained look on his face, for me, was just devastating because
I really wanted to deliver for him and I wanted to put the kind of paper out
that he wanted.
Something that I learned from him about leadership is you don't have to yell
at people. You just have to make them want to do their best. That was what it
But the word connection resonated with me because of the amount of times that
I've heard it in the conversation we've had here today. Connection between the
writer and the reader, as you know, is at the heart of public journalism. While
I'm honored to be here, I'm also a little intimidated. What on earth can I tell
this group about public journalism? I'm speaking to the godfather of public
journalism from Wichita, and his consiglieri from New York. What on earth am
I going to tell the award winners about public journalism?
I'm also speaking in front of Kate Parry, who is an award winning public journalism
editor and grant writer who is here representing the Pioneer Press. She,
more than anyone, is the reason I am standing before you as an alleged expert
on public journalism.
Expert that I am, I want to talk about my experience with public journalism.
But I want to talk to you about something else, too. You're sort of getting
two speeches for the price of one here. And Jan, the length of one, too, I need
I originally had, by the way, about a two-hour lecture. Jan asked me if I
could whack it to about 15 minutes, so I will.
I first met up with public journalism almost 10 years ago because some outfit
that Jan Schaffer worked for was giving away money. I had never heard of the
outfit, but I knew Jan and I figured it must be legit. This idea appealed to
me on two levels. One, as the smaller dog in a fight, against the evil Star
Tribune, we were always looking for money in St. Paul. And two, I figured
when it comes to newspapers, something new is almost always better than the
old stuff. So I said let's go for it.
Over the years, Kate has achieved star status at the Pioneer Press
for a number of talents. Of course, she's a halfway decent editor and she doesn't
take any crap off anybody, but that will have to be the subject of another speech
at another time, probably after the sun has gone down someplace.
She also became famous as a grant writer. See, here's the way it would work.
She would make up some letter and she'd send it off to Pew, and then later Knight
Ridder, and they'd send back a check. And we'd get the check, and then we'd
go off and say okay, how do we do what she's promised we'll do in this letter?
WALKER LUNDY: And it always worked out. Always with groundbreaking,
and sometimes award winning, public journalism. So go figure.
With the help of Pew money, our first effort was Safer Cities in 1996. And
it was a learning experience. Kate is a native of Gary, Indiana, so who better
to head up a project on crime? Except this wasn't a project on crime. It was
really a project on fighting crime. And on helping people to learn to be safe
and to feel safe. And on how we covered crime.
We used the word "you" a lot in the paper. My favorite headline from that
project is "The media: is it our fault?" We'd never written like that before.
Not only did the project transform our crime coverage, in addition to a police
reporter we added a public safety columnist. It also transformed the staffers
who worked on the project. Without realizing it, we planted a dozen public journalism
converts in the middle of our newsroom.
The next year, again with the Pew grant, came Across Generations: What Do
We Owe Each Other? It was the squishiest topic, but the readers loved it. And
another 20 staffers came to see how this new kind of journalism not only wasn't
a bogeyman, but brought the readers closer to the paper. My favorite headline
from that: "What do we owe our children and other people's kids?"
This time staff writer Kay Harvey, probably stealing liberally from Buzz Merritt's
book, explained to readers what public journalism is. Kay wrote "Public journalism
is based on these convictions: the belief that democracy is a way of life, not
a system of government; a desire to help people govern themselves and be involved
in public life; and the dedication to helping public life go well." Now for
some staffers, that was a no-duh. But for others, it was a revolution.
Then came Poverty Among Us, which was the first project that Knight Ridder
ponied up some money for. And if you've worked for Knight Ridder, you know how
tough it is to get them to pony up some money. But they saw the benefits of
public journalism, and I'm not sure they would have if Pew had not gone before
With Poverty Among Us, we launched our first book club, and readers loved
it, and we had another connection between them and us. And that project won
us our first Batten Award.
Then came my favorite, The New Face of Minnesota, about the burgeoning number
of immigrants who were making Minnesota their new home in America. We taught
readers how to get to know people not like them, and we taught them to say hello
and thank you in Arabic, Russian, Hmong, and Spanish. We made our Irish, German,
Scandinavian readers see how the newcomers were doing the same thing that the
reader's grandparents had done 100 years ago, coming to the land of opportunity.
By now the public journalism advocates on the Pioneer Press staff numbered
83. Those were the people who had worked on one or more of our projects. As
Kate wrote in her nomination letter "what a difference a decade has made in
our newsroom, where the philosophy of public journalism now is woven so deeply
into the daily culture that it has moved from the realm of controversy to the
domain of journalist instinct."
So my experience with public journalism has been pretty cool. I also have
to say, since this is Pew's swan song - and I wish Rebecca was here to hear
this - it's absolutely clear to me that this would not have happened the way
it happened without the Pew foundation money. It would have happened, I think.
But the projects that you heard about today and the projects that we did, I
don't think would have happened as grandly as they did without the Pew money.
I was struck, listening to the award winners today on the video tape, this
is the second of these meetings that I have been to. The other one was in the
Twin Cities a couple of years ago, where Zack wore his boa. I had the same feeling
in both instances. You can't listen to the award winners without coming away
inspired about this business that we're in, and inspired about the work that
And I thought about the Pulitzer Awards over a month or so ago. And I don't
mean, at all, to denigrate the work that they did because it was wonderful work.
And they did deserve the Pulitzers for what they won for. But when you think
about the impact on the readers and the impact on our community, the stuff you
heard about today is way deeper and way better than any of the Pulitzer contest
entries, in my opinion.
And now the challenge is, for me, to take this not only as you heard this
morning-it's alive and well on The Inquirer editorial page-now it gets
to be my opportunity to take it into The Inquirer newsroom. I'll let
you know how that goes.
I also want to use this podium to talk about something entirely different,
and that's changing newsrooms. Or more accurately, changing the people who work
in the newsrooms.
Unlike public journalism, I know a little more about this subject than some
of you may. I tried to change several newsrooms, failing at some and succeeding
at others. And now I have the chance to help change the mother of all Knight
Ridder newsrooms in Philadelphia. I'm talking about this topic today because
if you're in a newsroom that's trying to change, you should be worried. The
readers in the world are leaving you behind. If you aren't at least worried
about that, then you may be part of the problem if you're an editor.
We've been talking about this problem for years, most of our adult career.
When it comes down to actually changing the rank and filers in the newsroom,
their hearts and minds, it's been mostly talk. In the instances where I failed,
and there have been some, it was because I didn't go far enough, because I wasn't
bold enough, because I let people talk me out of stuff.
And so other than ordering cheesesteaks, if I can leave any sermon here with
you today, it's that when you go back to your newsrooms, don't let them talk
you out of it.
The problem is the world is changing faster than most journalists are. And
here is my anecdotal evidence of that. The first of the Pulitzers. There has
not been, I don't believe, a single public journalism project that's won a Pulitzer.
I take that back. We have a correction from the floor, Akron.
Let me start again. There's only been one -
WALKER LUNDY: Unless there are any other votes. There's only been one
public journalism project to win the Pulitzer. That's preposterous.
In the 1990s, public journalism was new, you'll remember. Remember how many
journalists viewed it as something akin to a Hare Krishna movement, and they
ran the other way, and proudly gave speeches and wrote articles saying by golly,
I'm not going to connect with readers. I just report the news. You could still
find editors today who will tell you that.
When Knight Ridder decided to pony up its own money for public journalism
in the last year they did that, which I think was three years ago, they only
had eight Knight Ridder newspapers who applied for - hear this - free money
to do journalism. The other editors said free money to do journalism? No thanks.
If you think journalists can see change coming before it gets here, let me
tell you about Jesse Ventura, my friend. Jesse got elected governor on a campaign
of challenging the political establishment. And almost everyone in the Minnesota
media, excellent reporters all, never saw it coming until about 10:45 on election
night, when the projections said he was going to be the next governor.
Last year's wave of buyouts affected a lot of journalists but not in a good
way. It left most of us more cynical and whiny and pessimistic and discouraged
and mistrustful of authority than we were before the economy went south. I'm
certainly not here to defend the business decisions of my company or the publicly
held newspaper companies. But I do think a lot of the journalists used the downsizing
as an excuse not to change, not to do innovative journalism. They also demonstrated
an unwillingness to understand capitalism and the marketplace and Wall Street.
I mean sure, newspapers are special. I do love them. We all love them. But
Wall Street doesn't give a damn about that, and we need to understand that.
In St. Paul, after watching a number of reporters at their desks thumbing
through the paper after starting time one morning, I sent an e-mail telling
them I thought that they ought to read the paper before they come to work, that
that was like part of putting your pants on. In fact, I said you know what,
if you're pressed for time and your choice is read the paper and put your pants
on, come to work without your pants.
WALKER LUNDY: A number of them were outraged. They came and said you
don't understand, we've got kids to get off to school, we've got carpools, we
go jogging in the morning. They didn't see the irony in how our readers have
the same kind of lives.
In Philadelphia I've been getting to know the staff six at a time. I'm up
to about 75 now and I've got another 50 to go. They are, by the way, known as
Walker Talkers on the staff. So I began to ask them, we have long stories. Now
don't go out of here and say I said the stories are too long in the paper. I
didn't say that. I just said they're long.
WALKER LUNDY: And so I started to ask the staffers, each one in the
meeting, if you have read this morning's newspaper, how many stories did you
read to the end? Now you have to figure the inflation factor here. One, it's
on the honor system. I mean, they could name any number they wanted. Two, it's
the big cheese asking the question. Even so, half of The Inquirer staffers
out of 75 said they either hadn't read the paper at all that morning, they'd
scanned it, or if they'd read it they'd read only one story to the end.
And so now what I'm saying is our stories are not too long just for the readers,
they're too long for us. You might want to take a similar survey at your newspaper.
We began a program in which every reporter and photographer gets a half day
a month to go somewhere in the community, anywhere they want to go, and spend
time with people who are not like them. There's no requirement even that they
write a story. Well, some reporters are suspicious of this.
WALKER LUNDY: And they groused, they don't want to do it. One of them
came to me and wondered about the ethics of talking to someone and then not
writing a story about them.
WALKER LUNDY: Like that never happened.
One of my informal surveys that I've taken over the years, I get up in the
morning and slog around whatever neighborhood I'm in for a mile or so, and I
look at the number of papers in the driveway at 7:00, 7:30 in the morning. And
my unscientific survey is that the number is growing, and we should worry about
In Philadelphia, I have met serious people, players in town, behind-the-scenes
pols, lawyers who live in Center City who don't read The Inquirer. Even
our core reader is changing.
The disconnect between reporters and readers still exists, and not just in
Philadelphia. It exists in your town, as well. You know that as an editor and
as a reporter. Too many on our staff in Philly think most suburbanites come
into Philly every weekend to eat a $200 dinner and attend an $80 a set Philadelphia
Orchestra concert. Well, some do, but most don't. They stay at home, maybe go
to a matinee movie, and have dinner at Applebee's if they go out at all.
And lastly, as evidence for the fact that we aren't keeping up with change
at the speed that our readers are changing, I'm not sure the journalism schools
are doing enough to close the gap between journalists and the readers. Again,
my anecdotal evidence is some of the most conservative - I'm not talking politically
now, I'm talking journalistically - some of the most conservative, stridently
conservative journalists I've come across, have been 20-somethings, fresh out
of journalism school. And I'm assuming they're telling me what they learned
in journalism school.
How are the readers changing? Well, I think you know, but here are a couple
of ways. To begin with, they're smarter than they used to be. That old crapola
we used to crank out doesn't sell so well anymore.
WALKER LUNDY: They expect more from us. They're splintering. The days
of the mass media may be numbered.
And lastly, they have more sources of information. You know what they are.
And what that means is that by the next morning, they know Colin Powell didn't
get peace in the Middle East. But think about how many stories had the lead
headline that said that the next morning?
The reader's attention span is evaporating. They bore quickly. And most importantly,
they are desperately in need of answers. The notion that utility, usefulness
in the newspaper will drive readership is true.
So what do we do? I have to be honest. There are some days I look at the paper
and I think it beats the hell out of me. I am reluctant to make suggestions
here because the ideas themselves are not new. This ain't rocket science. You
know what to do. It's the actual doing it part that's hard.
For starters, we have to change the culture in the newsroom. The culture,
by the way, is the way we do things here. In the newsroom, that's harder to
break than breaking a scoop. It's really quite ironic. When it comes to covering
and cheering on a changing world, we are Teddy Kennedy. When it comes to changing
our newsrooms, we turn into Jesse Helms.
Just one tiny example. How many journalists here over the age of 40, when
you write an email, still spell lead l-e-d-e? Well, get over it.
There's a trick to changing the culture of a newsroom. Given the unique personalities
of most journalists, you cannot change the culture by focusing on the culture.
It makes most journalists hunker down even more. In fact, don't even mention
the words newsroom culture. They don't realize there is one. They will run screaming
from the newsroom if you do. It's worse than the word synergy.
WALKER LUNDY: Instead, you have to focus on changing the journalism.
If you change the journalism, the culture will follow, and change will beget
Since I'm speaking here today, I'll suggest you begin by either embracing
public journalism, although I can't imagine what you're doing here having lunch
if you haven't already, or practicing it even more. Instead of just doing the
big epic projects, push it into the daily, every day covering the news newspaper.
Democracy isn't a spectator sport. And people armed with information can make
life better. And newspapers willing to listen and engage them can help. It should
be hard for the grumpiest reporter to argue with that, although some will.
Here's a test. How helpful, really helpful, was the front page you read this
morning? Was there anything in the newspaper that you tore out and put in your
pocket because you're going to take it home and use it? If there wasn't, if
you got through the whole paper and you didn't tear anything out, then that
newspaper needs work.
You need to challenge the conventional wisdom about everything in journalism
except the ethics. A lot of CW [conventional wisdom] used to work but a lot
of it doesn't anymore, not even when our own staff aren't reading our own newspapers.
And be bold, and embolden your staff. Challenge them to exceed their authority.
A couple of years ago I did a session for an assigning editor seminar at Knight
Ridder. These are assistant city editors, and frankly, they have more to say
about what goes in the paper the next day than all the managing editors and
And I said how many of you have the authority to charter a helicopter. And
thankfully, all of the people from St. Paul, they knew the right answer, they
raised their hand. And I said none of the rest of you do? And they said no,
we don't. Because there had been a lot of talk at the session about you know,
we can't do this and we can't do that and woe is us.
I said okay, suppose it's Sunday morning and you just happen to stop by the
newsroom and the most famous person in town, his house caught on fire, the family
is trapped on the third floor, the house is in the middle of this 10 acres of
wood surrounded by a fence, you can't get over the fence, and it's burning and
you hear that over the police radio. You can't get anywhere near it to shoot
a picture and there's an airport next to the newspaper and the helicopter is
on the pad and it's warming up. You don't have the authority to go over there
and say hey, I want to charter this helicopter?
And they said well, yes, I guess I would. I said then, you have the authority
to charter a helicopter. In addition to that, has the editor told you that you
don't have the authority to charter a helicopter? And they said no, no editor
has told me that.
That's what I mean about exceeding your authority. That's how you find out
what your authority is. If you can look your editor in the face and say I really
thought I was doing the right thing by the readers, you won't get fired. You
probably won't get fired.
WALKER LUNDY: And if you do get fired, you call me in Philadelphia.
We can work out a deal.
You also need to learn to deal with scanning and episodic readers. They don't
have a clip file at home, like we think they do.
Another little test, read all the display and photo captions on today's front
page of the newspaper you read and see how much of the news you get, because
that's what a lot of readers do. Try to read the paper in 10 minutes, and see
how much news you get, because that's what a lot of readers do.
Now it's one thing for us to say it and another thing to act on it. For example,
when it comes to breaking news, we all know the first day has already become
the second day. We admit that TV and radio and the Internet tell people the
what. Newspapers now have to tell them the why and the how and the what happens
next. But looking at so many papers, the headline and the lead doesn't begin
to answer any of those questions.
What happens if we don't change in these and other ways? Well, I think today
we're in danger of losing the franchise over the next generation. I don't mean
newspapers are going to go out of business, because we're always going to need
ads, buyers and sellers. And we'll always need something to keep the ads from
bumping into each other. So our jobs may be safe.
But by losing the franchise, I mean the business of finding new readers and
really connecting with them to replace our older readers who, by the way, are
dying. Of readers turning to newspapers to be smarter, to understand their world,
to navigate its dangers, to teach their children, to learn things that they
didn't know they wanted to learn, to marvel at believing in things. If we lose
the franchise, if the readers go off and leave us, it would be terrible for
us, for the readers, and for the country.
If Jim Batten were alive today, I believe he would be issuing a similar call
for us to catch up to the readers. He is not, so I will. Whether you're an editor
or a reporter or a journalism professor or a journalism student, go back to
your newsroom and your classroom and change something, anything. And then change
something else. Exceed your authority. Be subversive.
Some people will object, others will caution you, a few will refuse to go
along. You'll undoubtedly run into that passive-aggressive thing. There will
be the pocket veto. Listen to all of those people, carefully consider what they
say, and then go ahead and change something. And then change something else.
I think our future depends on it. Thank you.
JAN SCHAFFER: We're short on time but Walker will take one or two questions
if you have any.
All right, let's go back and reconvene. Thank you very much.
[Whereupon, the luncheon was concluded.]