Arguments for journalistic quality typically assert the importance of First Amendment responsibilities. In his book, “The Vanishing Newspaper: Saving Journalism in the Information Age,” Philip Meyer, Knight Chair in Journalism at the University of North Carolina, argues the case for quality based on the numbers. The data, he says, point to the appeal of quality journalism among readers, and the money spent to support quality journalism can be justified on the basis of higher profits and a stronger market position for newspapers. In reflecting on Meyer’s research, Lou Ureneck, who is a professor of business and economics journalism at Boston University, believes that while Meyer’s argument is reasoned and hopeful, it is insufficient. As Ureneck points out, Meyer’s book arrives at a difficult time for the newspaper industry when “the concept of increasing the investment in editorial quality, or even moderating the impulse to cut newsroom budgets, has become a battlefield.” In providing a comprehensive look at the result of Meyer’s “prodigious skills of analysis,” Ureneck expresses gratitude to Meyer for taking on these tough issues despite the huge challenge he confronts in trying “to find a solution to the decline of journalism within the rules practiced by today’s publicly traded corporations.”
After working for many years as a CNN foreign correspondent, Rebecca MacKinnon created a Weblog about North Korea and now, as a fellow at Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, explores online participatory media and international news. MacKinnon provides a forward-looking perspective to observations former CNN Vice President Bonnie Anderson makes about the steep and worrisome decline in the quality of TV news in her book, “News Flash: Journalism, Infotainment, and the Bottom-Line Business of Broadcast News.” MacKinnon says the conversation needs to be broadened to include new technologies that convey information in different ways. She wonders whether terms used now to talk about these topics will change, too. “Will the concepts of ‘journalism’ and ‘news’ become so redefined as to become unrecognizable from the way in which journalists define them today?” MacKinnon asks.
David DeJean, who has worked at the intersection of journalism and technology for 25 years, examines the arguments in two books that address the news media’s difficulties in connecting with ordinary people’s concerns. In “Our Media, Not Theirs: The Democratic Struggle Against Corporate Media,” authors Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols decry how profit motives have overtaken journalism’s critical mission of guarding “the people’s liberty” and how by embracing objectivity (as a business strategy), journalists have been transformed into stenographers and lapdogs. In “We the Media: Grassroots Journalism By the People, For the People,” former San Jose Mercury News columnist Dan Gillmor describes his vision of how the Internet can “save journalism— and thus democracy … [by] making reporting once again more responsive to the public’s right to know than the corporation’s right to profit.” DeJean writes about how Gillmor envisions journalism, with the aid of the new technologies, becoming “more of a technically aided conversation, rather than a top-down monologue.”
Former New York Times correspondent John Herbers explores what makes Seymour Hersh, author of the book “Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib,” such a skilled investigative reporter during this time of intense government secrecy. As Herbers writes, “It is all the more remarkable at a time when secrecy is on the increase in the Bush administration, when the federal Freedom of Information Act is being weakened, and when the use of unauthorized leaks in journalism generally has become more controversial.” Maggie Mulvihill, investigative editor at the Boston Herald, delves more deeply into issues of government secrecy and their impact on journalism in writing about Geoffrey R. Stone’s book, “Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime From the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism,” and the findings of two reports about secrecy, one prepared by the House Committee on Government Reform, the other by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. As Mulvihill points out, “Each of us has to navigate the steep challenges that now exist in gaining access to information as lower-level government officials keep in line with the tone of secrecy set by the White House.” In an excerpt from a speech entitled “Democracy, Freedom and Media,” Stanford University journalism professor William F. Woo explores why the press seems drawn to stories about democracy and is more uncomfortable when it comes to dealing with concepts of freedom and liberty. Woo contends that even though the press vigilantly stands up against threats to the First Amendment “as an institution, [the press] usually has been hostile to citizens whose free expression has been at stake.”
Former Boston Globe columnist and editor David Nyhan writes about what happened at The New York Times with Howell Raines as its editor, as seen through the reporting of Seth Mnookin in his book, “Hard News: The Scandals at The New York Times and Their Meaning for American Media.” “The bottom line to the book is Mnookin’s take that Raines wreaked 21 months of hell week upon his staff,” Nyhan says. “Raines whipped up fear and practiced favoritism, but he was a ballsy editor.” During the time he was writing this review, Nyhan died unexpectedly while shoveling snow. Globe colleague Kevin Cullen reminds us of Nyhan’s contributions to the Nieman Foundation as well as to journalism.
“Like all great narrative journalists, [Mark] Bowden must be a relentless asker of questions, a painstaking gatherer of minute detail,” writes Russell Frank, who teaches journalism at Penn State University, as he comments on Bowden’s collection of articles in his book “Road Work: Among Tyrants, Heroes, Rogues and Beasts.” What Frank feels is missing in these factual accounts are guideposts that could help readers to understand how what Bowden conveys came to be known by him. In her essay about several post-9/11 documentary films presenting alternative opinions and perspectives, filmmaker Lorie Conway observes that “As in the past when journalists have not fully fed the public’s appetite, a demand for alternative media has arisen.” With the publication of “Sahel: The End of the Road,” a book of photographs shot by Sebastião Salgado two decades ago in drought-stricken Africa, Michele McDonald, a Boston Globe photographer, recounts some of the “intense responses” these stunning, yet haunting black-and-white images have evoked. She quotes one critic as saying that “this beautification of tragedy results in pictures that ultimately reinforce our passivity toward the experience they reveal.” To McDonald, Salgado’s photographs “remind us, if we need such reminding, that the visual telling of loss and grief, so personal, is also universal.”