Don H. Corrigan (1999). The Public Journalism Movement in America: Evangelists in the Newsroom. (Westport, CT: Praeger). xviii + 235 pp. ISBN 0-275-96781-0. $67.95 (hardbound). Appendix: Public Journalism Lexicon, bibliography, index.
To many communitarian journalists, the concept of "public" or "community" journalism is a panacea for what ails both traditional journalism and the society that it serves. To others, it is a denial or negation of a long tradition of a separatist, almost Olympian, concept of an "objective journalism." The truth, of course, as of now and as of when this book was published, is somewhere in the middle.
Some 60 public journalism "evangelists" are named, categorized and discussed. Many have published in these pages, and are well known to everyone in the field of journalism. Some (such as John Dewey) are intellectual precursors of public journalism who made their marks in other and earlier disciplines. Since this is a history of a social/intellectual movement, with major implications for journalistic practice, those who are opposed to the concept of public journalism are given less attention, but are not ignored in chapter 3, "Dissenters: Doubting the Doctrine."
One of the most interesting aspects of this book is its use of the St. Louis Journalism Review (with which Corrigan was associated for a number of years) for examples and discussion. Those who live in the world's largest cities will find that they have no monopoly on interesting thought, discussion and argument. More importantly, the strong analogy that he draws between religious and journalistic evangelism is one that is bound to cause a great deal of thought of those who consider these matters. (Of course, it might also further polarize the principles involved).
As Corrigan says, "This is not an objective book." It is incomplete (as might be expected of a field-and work-in progress) and presents opinions strongly. He recognizes the post-modernist aspects of public journalism, but-like all of us living today-cannot be certain of what changes public journalism will or won't make in public knowledge and polity.
A substantial part of the book describes the concepts, practices, and practitioners of public journalism, as well as what journalism professors think about this concept.
The third part, "Confronting the Crucial Issues," discusses the "academizing" of journalism, the globalization of public journalism, and what the "real problems" are that journalism faces: narrowing of political discussion, subservience to the political system, dominance of public relations, decline of investigative reporting, disappearing international news, "dime a dozen" journalists, demise of the written word, failure of journalism schools, and a crisis of self-confidence.
This book will be worth anyone's time to read-but it is not for those too timid to consider what the future of journalism might become.
The above article was published in Media Ethics , Fall 2004 (15:1), p. 52.