November 5, 2009
Mass Media and Public Opinion
Reading Response 2
Public Journalism Pros and Cons through the Years
Cheryl Gibbs’s article was a response to Tanni Haas’s piece, The Pursuit of Public Journalism: Theory, Practice, and Criticism. Gibbs talked about her reactions to Haas’s Book, while giving a summary and a critique of it. She commends Haas’s writing saying, he “makes provocative recommendations for pushing public journalism forward.” She applauds his research, perspectives, and his clarity. One of Haas’s quotes that Gibbs points out is, “journalists should also offer citizens opportunities to articulate the social locations from which they view given topics and to reflect on how those social locations affect their sense of problems and solutions.” Gibbs also addresses Haas’s optimism in his statement that journalists should help the subordinate social groups to participate. Then, she lists the reasons why this optimism to change our communities for the better, didn’t work out, which took a depressing turn.
Voakes article, A Brief History of Public Journalism, does a good job of describing how public journalism worked through the decades. First, he defined public journalism with five common practices: listen to the stories and ideas of citizens, examine alternative ways to frame stories on important community issues, choose frames that best stimulate citizen deliberation and build public understanding of issues, report on major public problems in a way that advances public knowledge of possible solutions, and finally, pay continuing attention to how well and how credibly it is communicating with the public (Voakes, 25). He discussed how public journalism started and how it developed through the years, while adding in multiple researchers’ opinions and thoughts on the subject. Much of the article was based on Lippmann’s traditional democracy perspective and his followers against Dewey’s participatory democracy perspective and his followers who also supported public journalism. Lippmann thought society was too complex and citizens were too busy, ignorant, and overwhelmed, so they relied on the media to decide their voting options. Dewey thought that the citizens were very capable to participate in public life and should not leave the deliberation process to the officials and lobbyists. Voakes also brings up some key terms of the topic like public judgment, public sphere, and deliberative polling. Some of Voakes’s last few major points were some critics’ views versus some supporters’ reactions, which factors work well in public journalism, and that in a study, journalists at traditional newspapers were found to be receptive to public journalism and most agree with four of the five principles in the definition. The conclusion was mainly about how no instances were noted when or if people ever had terrible experiences with public journalism; it just mentions that most of the research that has been done on its impact has had high or very high ratings, which could be biased.
I believe both Lippmann and Dewey make excellent points when explaining their versions of democracy, but they both seem like such drastic options. I think an in-between democracy that involves ideas from both perspectives would be ideal. I do like the idea of public journalism, but the critics of it do raise valid, but harsh arguments. I think most of the principles of the definition of public journalism can be merged with traditional journalism, but not all of the principles are realistic in our society today. Many people are so used to how journalism is today that a change which involves more work for them on top of their crazy, everyday lives may upset them. Although, there are also very many opinionated people who would love this type of journalism and democracy that is more individualistic and involved. I don’t personally have an example of public journalism, but I have been in many situations where community or group meetings held to achieve collective deliberation have definitely made situations worse in the end than they were before the meeting. One little example would be my cheerleading coach in high school grouping us together to get our opinions on our performance, which would lead to everyone shouting and wanting to add their thoughts. We, as a people today, are just extremely diverse and different in all aspects of the self even within our own communities, that I believe too much participation can lead to downfall as well as too little participation.
I found a poll story about a New York Times/CBS news poll on a possible ban on texting while driving. It is a very serious and debatable issue right now, because cell phones are becoming more technologically advanced, and kids are getting cell phones at younger and younger ages. Some people compared texting while driving to be as dangerous as drinking and driving, yet others disagree with that harsh comparison. The writer of this poll story obviously listened to the stories and ideas of citizens, because there were opinions from random people quoted in the story. Texting while driving is clearly an important community and cultural issue currently, and the author definitely frames it as such when she starts out with the overwhelming poll result that 97% support the prohibition of texting while driving. Even though there is a clear majority, the story doesn’t discuss its sample. The whole sample could be worried parents of teens who could be overreacting. This poll story does add to the public’s knowledge on the issue and suggests the possible solutions of hands-free cellular devices, and it hard for a poll story author to pay continuing attention to how well and how credibly it is communicating with the public. So, for the most part, this poll story shows the features of public journalism on a contemporary issue.