The Good News: Civic Journalism and Building the Community

civic JournalismAn American Journalist and Humorist once wrote, “The Job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. (Steele, 2002, Para. 1). In this view, the role of the reporter is two- faceted: 1) the reporter must shake up those who are comfortable, and 2) the reporter must comfort those who need it by offering a helping hand, or at least educate their public by bringing in new information to those in need of it. According to Executive Director, Pew Center for Civic Journalism there are two key things to know concerning Civic Journalism which says” when the media does its job differently, citizens do their jobs differently, and when you seed innovation into newsrooms you get new ideas”. (Schaffer, 2014). Hence, if reporting today is not bringing affliction and/ or comfort then it is not good news. What can be done about it? Schaffer (2014) makes mention that there a few things to be done which could go beyond diagnosing the problem. Therefore, diagnose the cause but move on and actually change that which has already been diagnosed. Conversely, one would have to see clearly the picture that journalism has portrayed to the masses which means going back to review what the public sees and why they see it that way. Hence, making changes which should be of first priority. Once a problem is identified there should be efforts made which bring improvement and understanding to public thinking that change the relation of the media as a ‘lap dog,’ of the media as an ‘attack dog,’ and ultimately change the media as a ‘watch dog’ to something other than a farce. Essentially, American media must be seen as the “guide dog’ which educates the public on their role to help their own communities and beyond.

A survey conducted by the Pew Center for Civic Journalism reflects journalists’ view of the First Amendment saying that some journalists hold their rights to freedom of press in high regard more than the public did. On the contrary, citizens feel differently toward the media and label the press arrogant, insensitive, biased, inaccurate and sometimes filled with sensationalism. Conversely, “fifty-three percent respondents said they believe the press has too much freedom, forty-five percent respondents said they believe media protects democracy, and thirty-eight percent of the respondents said the media actually hurt democracy.” Additionally, there were people who disapproved of reporting political candidates, hidden cameras, and publishing governmental secrets. (Schaffer, 2014, p.9-10. Para. 7). Consequently, this data might be surprising for some, however, it shows that America citizens are divided in their opinion of the media, and also shows what journalist think of their work is totally off base. Especially, in regards to news gathering as it pertains to truth of how citizens really feel about the news and those who report it which causes resentment for citizens who feel they are unheard.

On April 15, 2014, an accident on Interstate NE Loop 820 shook a community leaving two dead people and others injured in Fort Worth, Texas. (Read: Two Killed in Crash Along East Loop 820). The neighborhood was shaken, not only from the force of the impact, but from the force of the ideal. People witness to the accident or nearby could be seen running from their homes and motorists stopping to help. It is the case that a community came together but was left to pick up these pieces alone, but this has become the norm there. The crash involving three vehicles was the worst incident to happen in the Stop Six community since the notorious “Birthday Party” shootings in 2008 which left a five year old child dead on her birthday; along with, her paternal grandmother, and several other innocent children and adults in attendance. (Read more: 2 dead in birthday party shooting in Fort Worth). In both of the events, the reporters, helicopters could be seen coming from miles around, hovering over people’s homes to gather their stories and taking interviews from witnesses. Notably, once the initial reports were broadcast the neighborhoods were forgotten which leaves one to ask what about the neighborhood? There has not been any attention since for media coverage for the community though there has been plenty newsworthy material such as council meetings where neighbors meet with officials from time to time to discuss issues which have not been met or that need attention. However, these type meetings are generally campaign ventures and sparse. It is the case that the only reports in certain neighborhoods are of a negative undertone, a killing, a domestic issue when someone is killed, a child kills their parent, a sexual offender nearby and so on. Notably, though that type news is necessary people already know that their neighborhoods are not the best and that most are unsafe. Therefore, good news would bring with it an appeal for public support and someone who can report that appeal accurately is needed. To date, there is still no follow up interviews for the families in attendance of the birthday party to know how they fare and this is where media responsibility to update the public is a needed for any mass tragedy of this magnitude. Moreover, there seems to be a drive through type reporting as far as media is concerned. Additionally, though these incidents might seem small concerning the accident and the birthday party this is the type reporting seen in the neighborhoods where reportedly violence is common. Therefore, however common whether an accident or murder no other news seems newsworthy material. Where are the caring journalists to tell the story?
One of the reasons the lack of report might seem difficult in certain communities would be a lack of journalist support and lack of journalistic staff. Typically, one might see minority commentators, anchors and reporters here and there, however, why are they so scare? Concerning BBC and black journalist, Meikle (2014) wrote “A senior black journalist has accused the BBC of” institutional myopia or inertia “over its employment of ethnic minority staff” (Para.1). In this instance, one might wonder what this has to do with the general public and reporting. The problem is confusion in the work place where many journalists find themselves clamoring for rank instead of clamoring to get stories that matter. Hence, instead there are stories of hometown heroes and those deemed fitting for community efforts, but no reports of how to solve eminent or impeding problems. It is the case that with few journalists to work stories, or who find interest to report stories are pushed to quit such organizations as BBC. Of course, BBC being global is a far cry from everyday life in a community; however, one should ask does this type behavior occur everywhere? Therefore, the type of behavior as found in drive by reporting styles may prove a huge factor lacking in community building efforts.
In the article, “The Last Days of Journalism” Nip (2008) employed at a least 6 different ways media could change audience view or to offer a helping hand:
• Listening to the public to help shape the news agenda
• Giving ordinary people a voice
• Covering storing in a way which facilitates public understanding and stimulates citizen deliberation of problems behind the stories
• Presenting news to make it more accessible and easier for people to engage in the issues
• Engaging the community in problem solving
• Maximizing the impact of coverage in the community
Listening to the public is almost non-existent when it comes to some communities. Hence, a great idea would be to gather ideas developed from mingling with people in their communities in times separate from campaigning. Notably, politicians always have a say about certain issues, but what about the communities these bills and policies affect most? It is the case, then, that the only time some citizens have an opportunity to speak is in tragedy, or an election year and those meetings handpicked. Nip (2008) adds, “Listening techniques include conducting polls, surveys, town hall meetings, focus groups, readers’ panels, and organizing intimate living room or kitchen conversations.” (p. 180). Therefore, giving a voice to ordinary people would make a world of difference when people’s input seems important. Thames (2014) wrote “Unlike journalists who earn a living covering politics, voters have a lot of other things competing for their attention — at home and at work. We’ve been quick to misjudge their unfocused nature as ambivalence. Most take their role quite seriously. Times Mirror found last year that 66% of Americans “completely agree” it is their duty to always vote, up from 46% in 1987.” (Line 7). It is the case that the media might take for granted that people casting votes have a voice. For example, one should ask how is it that with all the lines formed during an election is anyone not heard from, except politicians. During campaigning Wendy Williams advocated women’s health issues which included a right to choose and single parenting support. It would have been a great add if during the campaign there were voices heard on the other side of those issues; as like, women who have had abortions to balance out information and give the people an informed decision. Conversely, attack ads make people distrustful and mean spirited which is another reason why the media is not well liked.
Radio is great for community discussions and forums and though good sources of information one should ask are there solutions to come from these? Rudy Vee is on the air and has been a full time Professional Announcer for the COX MEDIA GROUP in Jacksonville, Florida for 22 years. Rudy was asked what issues of a public concern he believed needed the most help from media. He wrote, “Public safety. Especially for women. We, as announcers, are here to educate and inform. That premise has long fallen by the wayside to commercialism. Now, there are insignificant Sunday morning programs to comply to FCC regulations regarding this. Don’t get me wrong, the music IS the star; but radio could be doing so much more. There are a couple of cats, Gregg Street in Atlanta and Jamming Jimmy Olsen in Tyler that are using their shifts for the greater purpose of super-serving the community and kids. But very few are allowed to do this anymore? Also, we could a heck of a lot more in supporting the local artists in the market. But, once again, if it ain’t chartin,’ chances are it won’t get played. we also need to be doing more for the classic artist of our time that are still putting out art. The Con-Funk-Shun’s, the Lakeside’s, the Will Downing’s, the Glenn Jones’, the Howard Hewett’s. The cats are still putting out quality classic art – but to no avail.” (Vee, 2014). Ultimately, more broadcasts and reports need to reflect Mr. Vee’s thinking that the communities need more help from the media. Mr. Vee also added input concerning journalism and good reporters. He was asked, “What is the current state of the radio ‘talent pool?’ Is good Journalism being shelved along with good pay? His response, “WOW! Umph…No comment (Sorry)” That says it all.
Journalist engagement with the community in problem solving is a big issue for some, and education is a key ingredient. In the aforementioned Stop Six area as well as other areas of the city homeowners have found their property taken in  pay arrangements where the city offers one year of payment with balances due at the end of a year. In this, there is no education about the home owner’s right to acquire counsel from an attorney who would give them adequate information about property tax law and their ability to get a longer arrangement. Consequently, without that help many people have faced eviction. It is the case that anyone can find this information in any public record if they knew to look. Therefore, news coverage would benefit the community if those concerned could have their stories told. As a watch dog to government, journalists have a duty to be honest and fair in their reports of government officials concerning corruption. In that regard, Steel (2002) wrote, “Cole Campbell, editor of the Virginian-Pilot, has put into practice various elements of civic journalism. He believes that news organizations must create a different sort of relationship with the public, one that reexamines the journalist’s role to sources and to readers. Campbell (1995) says newspapers must reframe the questions and change conventions about what is news and how it is covered. He says journalism must “cover tension not just conflict, ambivalence not just certainty.” (Para. 6).
CSPAN guest Ed Fouhy (1997) outlines the plight of journalism and community saying, “Civic Journalism needs to be in reformed. One definition of a reformed civic journalism would be to tell the truth so the people can be informed and remain sovereign and gives maximum freedom of choice.” In essence, Mr. Fouhy proclaims that the media should be a guiding force to the people, but instead have become arrogant and have First Amendment Reflex Syndrome where the excuse is always given for freedom of speech. Fouhy adds to that to say, “ Journalist often are inconsiderate to the personal hurt caused by to people and the person through invasion of privacy, and devalue the damage done by media while overvaluing the good that might come from reports.” (Paraphrased). The plight of some communities; or rather individuals broadcast on television is disparaging, because of bias reporting. Last year, in news there were  a string of unfair trials publicized where people were literally getting away with murder. One in particular was a young Caucasian boy of sixteen years who was drunk behind the wheel of a car and ran into and killed people on the side of the road. His psychiatrist labelled him as suffering from so called ‘affluenza’. Conversely, affluenza reportedly, is a dis-ease of the affluent which says a youth’s inability to tell right from wrong is imbalanced. Hence, the punishment for the inebriated lad was ten years’ probation. In that same vain, this year an inebriated black man was drunk and drove his car into a crowd of people. The media coverage had a field day with that and for weeks after followed up with the funerals, the victims and the like. The icing on the cake came when an interview with a deceased teen’s girlfriend said that she wanted the accused dead, and this said with malice against someone of her own race. The media never showed anything afterwards concerning the other drunken individual mentioned, except to say that his parents were settling suits for those families who lost loved ones too. It is bias, because here are two drunks who killed but two totally different reports concerning them. Steel (2002) wrote, “Bill Woo (1995) does not shine a solid red light on public journalism. He raises cautions in the spirit of a yellow light. Woo likes the connections to improving democracy, and he says he is “intrigued by what may lie down that road, beyond the bend.” But he also urges all of us in journalism to listen to what he calls the “old bells ringing for objectivity, detachment, independence, for the courage to print stories that are unpopular and for which there is no consensus. “I hope we listen for them again,” Woo says, “before we grow so old and so wise that they no longer matter.” (Para, 30). One has to question whether the stories reported are objective, detached, and independent when one sided reporting is the case. Additionally, good news would have made at least one of the reports into an angle story, whereabouts; the issue of driving drunk would have been displayed with information to educate and teach. Hence, the guidance factor in journalism would have been at the forefront for youth today to discourage drinking endeavors; but sadly, the message presented was if one is white and affluent one can get away with murder which is surely a form of bias at its peak.
Troubling is the fact that good news has been traded for internet stories and social media scandal done in a rush. It is the case that gone are the days of intimacy where a good newspaper read was a family affair, comics and all. Paula A. Sanford, Currently resides in Galesburg, IL USA and is a Certified Television Producer with Chicago Access Network TV, (CAN TV) 2007-2010 – Produced written copy & public service announcements for the Cook County, Chicago, IL area. Paula also is a Community Relations Coordinator/Public Relations Director: Prayer & Faith Outreach Ministries, Chicago, IL – 2004 – 2010: Made community relations news available to the Chicago & surrounding suburbs, concerning upcoming and ongoing events occurring in the church and community. Paula was asked to give her view concerning the fail of some newspapers and their readership: “Does the decline of newspapers even matter? Could this actually be a blessing in disguise? Her response: Yes, I think it matters that there is a decline of newspapers. To me, it is as imperative to some people to have newspapers, because some baby boomers (and others) may never adapt to social media.” (Sanford, 2014). It is the case that some people would rather read than turn on the television or listen to the radio. Hence, Civic Journalism must be multifaceted in its quest to guide.
In closing, journalism has three approaches to the community, that is the lap dog, the attack dog, the watch dog, and to remove negative stigma every public journalist should take responsibility for seeing the goal of becoming a guide dog to the communities brought forth. In these, there should be different outlooks stemming from the individual journalist who might see their job as a race to higher status and paycheck rather than seeing a community of hope developed. Journalist across the board must re-engage with the community not just entertain communities, because as it is with the homeowner’s plight so it is as Fouhy (1997) points out that “People want to know where the good schools are and how to improve those where they live; as well as learning how their tax dollars are spent. In turn, reports should be a balance between positive and negative where there is ongoing reporting; not just drive by reports. Certainly, there is a need to re-direct the focus of what good news is, because good news shakes up the comfortable and comforts the afflicted. Subsequently, becoming the ‘guide dog’ it was meant to be.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s