Book Reviews: How to Fix the Failings of Today's Journalism
Posted: 1/9/2014  |  By: Ed Zintel
Informing the News – The Need for Knowledge-Based Journalism
Thomas E. Patterson
Vintage Books, $15, Pages: 256 | ISBN: 978-0-345-80660-4


Information, Thomas E. Patterson, says, is the lifeblood of a healthy democracy. “(But) public opinion and debate suffer when citizens are misinformed about current affairs, as is increasingly the case,” he opines in Informing the News — The Need for Knowledge-based Journalism.  

Though journalists are taught to be fair and balanced, Patterson believes that there’s a whole lot more to it than just that, and, in fact, shouldn’t be the sole goal toward good journalism. He argues that “fair and balanced” or fair and balanced journalism? forces the media into making false equivalencies, which leads to bad journalism. Patterson proposes “knowledge-based journalism” as the answer, saying that journalists have to be deeply informed about who and what they write about or they’ll misinterpret them and be vulnerable to manipulation by their sources.  

“Too often, reporters give equal weight to facts and biased opinion, stir up small controversies, and substitute infotainment for real news,” Patterson writes. “Even when they get the facts rights, they often misjudge the context in which they belong.”  

Patterson admits that the task is not easy. With the increasing amount and faster ways news is delivered today, there is a lot of “noise” to contend with and a lot of sources of information that are not trustworthy, he acknowledges. Patterson believes journalists need to inform their audiences in order to find some clarity amidst that noise and confusion.  

He points to six hurdles in knowledge-based journalism: information, source, knowledge, audience, education, and democracy. He says education is the most critical. “Media needs a deep understanding of its audience, how people learn, what it is about news stories that leave an impact and what’s the cumulative effect of news coverage,” he says. This is true and is a noble quest, but is something that is difficult to thoroughly solve in a short book, more than 100 pages of which are appendix and bibliography. 

Patterson is Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press and teaches at the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He is somewhat of an expert on shaping public opinion and views. His first book, The Unseeing Eye, was named by the American Association for Public Opinion research as one of the 50 most influential books on public opinion in the past half century. An earlier book on the media’s political role, Out of Order, received the American Political Science Association’s Graber Award as the best book of the decade in political communication.    

Out of Print – Newspapers, Journalism and the Business of News in the Digital Age
George Brock              
Kogan Page, $24.95, Pages: 242 | ISBN: 978-0-7494-6651-0
 

George Brock examines what he calls the “perfect storm” of the fragile newspaper industry, in which falling circulations, reduced advertising revenue, rising print costs and the impact of “citizen journalists” and free news aggregators have all combined to create upheaval in the news business. However, Brock has an optimistic outlook on journalism’s future, something refreshing in this age of doom and gloom.  

Brock says the shift from the print product to online news has created a transformative change in journalism and it needs to be rethought on a global scale. Brock looks at some of the key issues in transforming to the digital age, from phone-hacking scandals and the Leveson inquiry to the impact of social media on news and its expectations.  

But by looking back at history, Brock shows that journalism has and can again adapt to these massive shifts. He points to the wobbly beginnings and quick innovation that drove news journalism for more than 300 years before the maturation and slow decline of the business in the 1900s. Brock believes that the newspaper industry is cyclical in nature and that the current disruptions are part of a long evolution, that though there are problems with the current business model, history has shown that there is a future for print journalism.  

Brock is a professor at City University London, where he heads the Graduate School of Journalism. He has worked for the Observer and The (London) Times, where he was foreign editor, managing editor and Saturday editor.

New Editions–The Northwest’s newspapers as they were, are, and will be
Steve Bagwell and Randy Stapilus
Ridenbaugh Press, $24.95, Pages: 318 | ISBN: 978-0-945648-10-9


This book is a study of newspapers in the Northwest and how time has shaped the papers in Washington, Idaho and Oregon, what they’re like today and where they may be headed.  

It starts out with a short history of newspapers in the Northwest, then introduces the various newspaper ownership chains, and finally goes through, title by title, all the paid-circulation newspapers (and many of the free ones) that are publishing in each state.  
Like all around the world, the newspaper industry is battling for survival in the Northwest. A hundred years ago, there were approximately 750 newspapers in the region. Today, there is less than a third as many.  

But those that remain are working hard to meet audience demands and adapt to the digital age, providing something more than the Internet alone can provide. How they do that is varied, too: While some newspapers like the Oregonian have been moving to an ever-more-digital operation, others— two dozen in the region—have no websites at all. It’s all part of survival in a part of the country known for just that.  

Bagwell is managing editor of the News-Register in McMinnville, Ore. Previously, he held newsroom positions at the Bend Bulletin, the Salem Statesman Journal, the Idaho Statesman and the Daily Astorian. He teaches journalism at Oregon State University and Linfield College.  

Stapilus worked for daily newspapers, including the Idaho Statesman, the Idaho State Journal and (what is now) the Idaho Press Tribune, and has been a weekly columnist for a number of Northwest newspapers. He is the editor and publisher of Ridenbaugh Press.