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Aug. 9, 2013, 10 a.m.

Summer Reading 2013: “Getting the Connections Right: Public Journalism and the Troubles in the Press” by Jay Rosen (1996)

“This is what public journalism is saying: getting the connections right is the deeper challenge in journalism right now.”

Editor’s Note: The Nieman Foundation turns 75 years old this year, and our longevity has helped us to accumulate one of the most thorough collections of books about the last century of journalism. We at Nieman Lab are taking our annual late-summer break — expect limited posting between now and August 19 — but we thought we’d leave you readers with some interesting excerpts from our collection.

These books about journalism might be decades old, but in a lot of cases, they’re dealing with the same issues journalists are today: how to sustain a news organization, how to remain relevant, and how a vigorous press can help a democracy. This is Summer Reading 2013.

Getting the Connections Right: Public Journalism and the Troubles in the Press by Jay Rosen

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Getting the Connections Right is a distillation of Jay Rosen’s concept of public journalism, which “calls on the press to help revive civic life and improve public dialogue — and to fashion a coherent response to the deepening problems of our civic climate, most of which implicate journalists.” Written a few years before the future-of-journalism debates became heavily focused on the coming digital news revolution, the book is a look at the conversation about how to make the press more relevant, at a time when that discussion could still focus on print newspapers.

Rosen has said that his focus shifted from the public journalism movement around 2000 (more on that here), but to read his call for rethinking traditional divisions is to see how it is playing out today: the elimination of much of the journalist/blogger divide, the reporter/analyst divide, and in some cases the editorial/business divide.

This section of the book comes after a discussion of newspaper editors who choose not to vote, including the Washington Post’s Leonard Downie.

Not many journalists go to those lengths, but journalism in general shares Downie’s approach. It aims to remain properly detached. The industry’s ethical codes are concerned almost exclusively with getting the separations right. Consider how central the image of separation is in the mind of the American press:

– Editorial functions are separated from the business side.
– The news pages are separated from the opinion pages.
– Facts are separated from values.
– Those who make the news are separated from those who cover the news.
– Truth-telling must be separated from its consequences so that journalists can “tell it like it is.”
– The newspaper is separated from other institutions by its duty to report on them.
– One day is separated from another because news is what’s “new” today.
– A good journalists separates reality from rhetoric.
– One’s professional identity must be separated from one’s personal identity as a citizen.
– How one “feels” about something is separate from how one reports on it.
– The journalist’s mind is separate from the journalist’s soul.

But suppose that getting the separations right isn’t the central problem. This is what public journalism is saying: getting the connections right is the deeper challenge in journalism right now. “Getting the connections right” means all the connections: between news and opinion, between facts and values, between the editorial product and the business function, between the press and the political system, between the occupational and the spiritual crisis, and particularly between journalism and the public. Worry about the connections, and in time the needed separations will become clear. This is a difficult task, primarily because some distancing remains critically important. There is, finally, a difference between doing journalism and doing politics, between observation and action. There is a core value in “objectivity” that ought to be upheld, but, as Ed Fouhy observes, there is also “a sterile detachment from the life of the community” that needs to be overcome.

POSTED     Aug. 9, 2013, 10 a.m.
PART OF A SERIES     Summer Reading 2013
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