By: Mark Fitzgerald
Former St. Louis Post-Dispatch editor William Woo says the main argument supporters give for so-called civic journalism ? that it will focus newsrooms on building good citizenship rather than trashy coverage ? is precisely why he is against the concept.Woo told an audience at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Ill., that journalism has deteriorated so rapidly since O.J. Simpson’s first trial “that I have deep reservations about giving editors the power to enact or propose anything.”
“I question whether editors still possess the judgment,” Woo said.
Civic journalism took other shots from Michael Gartner, editor and co-owner of the Daily Tribune in Ames, Iowa. “Civic journalism is mostly silly,” he said. “I think it’s a way for newspaper owners who see a sugar daddy in the Pew Charitable Foundation to get clean money into their newsroom ? these high-minded people who would never take money from the USIA (United States Information Agency) or the government or Pakistan or the General Motors corporation.”
Jan Schaffer, executive director of the Pew Center for Civic Journalism, said the extent of the center’s giving has been grossly exaggerated. The center, founded five years ago, has an operating budget of just $1 million annually, she said.
“I don’t think the issue is that there is anything sinister about the foundation’s money,” Schaffer said.
Gartner, however, said he was not so sure about that. Pew-funded “team coordinators” on newspaper civic journalism projects amount to “third parties” in the newsroom, he said.
“Even the American newspaper publishers ? who think the First Amendment is about postal rates ? would rise up if the third party were the USIA or the government,” Gartner said. “I don’t think Pew’s money is any better or worse than any other third party’s money in the newsroom.”
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