Tom Rosenstiel & Amy S. Mitchell (eds.) (2003). Thinking Clearly: Cases in Journalistic Decision-Making. x + 265 pp. ISBN 0-231-12589- 5. $54.50 (paper). (New York: Columbia University Press) Case studies, sources, notes, authors' biographies.
The decisions reported in this collection often involve ethics, but range wider, over the entire field of journalistic decision-making from selection of which stories to cover, to the "news peg" on which to hang them, and on to the detailed choices made by reporters, editors and publishers as to what words and pictures to publish and what not to publish.
Both authors are connected with The Project for Excellence in Journalism, with Rosenstiel-who has published several recent books dealing with modern mass communication-serving as its director after a long career with Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, and MSNBC. They have collected eight carefully thought out essays by as many authors, from the academy and the journalism profession.
These essays deal with all sorts of major stories, ranging from the Columbine High School shootings that took place over a few minutes, but which affected the community-and the nation-for days (and months) to come, to the Watergate break-in, the importance of whose ramifications can hardly be overestimated, and which still resonates in Washington. The first essay deals with a national development ("McCarthyism") and the last one deals with a failed presidential campaign (John McCain in 2000). The chapters consist of an introduction by James W. Carey; "McCarthyism, 1950-1954" by John Herbers; "Internet Journalism and the Starr Investigation" by J. D. Lasica; "Columbine School Shooting: Live Television Coverage" by Alicia C. Shepard; "Minnesota Basketball Cheating Case" by Geneva Overholser; "The Massacre in El Mozote" by Stanley Meisler; "Watergate" by James M. Perry; "New Orleans Times-Picayune Series on Racism" by Jack Nelson; and "John McCain's 2000 Presidential Campaign: Political Reporting" by Jon Margolis.
The advantages of presenting only a handful of cases are, of course, the ability to provide depth, with the accounts usually written by reporters who were involved in covering the original stories, and with the help of a blue-ribbon panel of consultants. The disadvantage is that the reader must quickly develop a set of guidelines for him or herself, perhaps derived from these eight decision-making situations but not specifically related to them as she or he navigates the murky waters of today's journalism. As a text, it has its drawbacks of scope-but as a stimulus for thought (and a reminder of some salient stories of the recent past), it is excellent, and belongs on the shelf of most toilers in the journalistic vineyards.
The above article was published in Media Ethics , Fall 2004 (15:1), pp.49-50.