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The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and The Public Should Expect

18 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0609806913
ISBN-10: 0609806912
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Editorial Reviews Review

These are tough times for journalism. Newsroom executives' bonuses tend to be based on their company's profit margin. Journalists are constantly jockeying for the time and space necessary to tell their stories as they see fit. Only 47 percent of Americans even read a newspaper. And Time and Newsweek--news magazines, remember?--"were seven times more likely to have the same cover story as People magazine in 1997 than in 1977."

It's no wonder that in 1997, the Committee of Concerned Journalists formed to "engage journalists and the public in a careful examination of what journalism was supposed to be." The Elements of Journalism reports the results of that study, which included 21 public forums (attended by 3,000 people), in-depth interviews with 100 journalists, editorial content studies, and research into the history of journalism. Part of what the committee members learned, they already knew. Journalism is complicated business: journalists are paid by management but work for the citizens; they tend to be self-taught (there is little evidence of mentoring and much disdain for journalism schools); and they need to be objective even when they're not impartial. This has always been the case. But the committee also detected a trend, one abundantly evident to anyone who has tried to find news on the evening TV news: "news was becoming entertainment and entertainment news."

"Unless we can grasp and reclaim the theory of a free press," warn Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, the book's authors, "journalists risk allowing their profession to disappear." Through their discussions with journalists, the Committee of Concerned Journalists defined nine "clear principles" of journalism, which Kovach and Rosenstiel explore in great detail. The first principle is, "Journalism's first obligation is to the truth." The last: "Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience." In between come issues of loyalty, verification, independence, and power monitoring, among others.

Invigorating reading for newsroom interns, jaded reporters, and anyone else who needs to be reminded of the rigorousness, integrity, and meaning of journalism. --Jane Steinberg --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In 1997, 25 men and women formed the Committee of Concerned Journalists and began a three-year investigation into what they believe is a crisis in journalism today. If, as they set forth, "the purpose of journalism is to provide people with the information they need to be free and self-governing," the committee believes that journalism has lost its credibility in the interest of the bottom line. One of the main reasons for this new emphasis on the bottom line, claim committee chair Kovach and fellow member Rosenstiel (coauthors of Warp Speed: America in the Age of Mixed Media), is that "technology is shaping a new economic organization of information companies [e.g., Time Warner is now part of AOL, Disney owns ABC News], which is subsuming journalism inside it." In this incisive, controversial and well-presented work, the authors have synthesized the committee's findings to lay down nine principles of sound journalism for both those in the industry and the citizens who rely on the free press as a fundamental element of democracy. First and foremost among these principles is journalism's "obligation to the truth." At first glance, this principle may appear self-evident, but as Kovach and Rosenstiel explain, what constitutes the truth is sticky and often misunderstood. For example, the truth may be neither fair nor balanced, nor should it necessarily be, they say. Kovach and Rosenstiel have issued a clarion call to their colleagues, and they hope that all journalists, editors and owners of news organizations will incorporate the principles of the profession as they've outlined them into their everyday work. However, the authors offer no specific suggestions as to how to enact these principles in a wide-reaching or systematic manner.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Three Rivers Press (December 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0609806912
  • ISBN-13: 978-0609806913
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,002,557 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca on June 20, 2002
Format: Paperback
Did you ever give much thought to the "unbiased" nature of journalism? Or about "balanced coverage" in articles and newscasts? Well, Kovach and Rosenstiel certainly have -- and their thoughts on these concepts are nothing short of revolutionary.
1. The authors argue that by nature, journalists are biased -- and that this is ok.
2. They also claim that "balanced coverage" is unfair, and should not be a goal of journalism.
Sounds crazy, right? At first blush, yes; but by clearly delineating what journalists SHOULD do, the authors make a strong argument that "bias" and "balance" are misused terms that ought to be discarded.
For example, they say that requiring journalists to be unbiased is unnatural, for bias is part of human nature -- and professional journalists should not be required to forget who they are. Instead, journalists should maintain an *independence* from those they cover, so that they are not unduly influenced by people they interview -- even if they do agree with them.
Likewise, they argue that "balance" should not be a tenet of journalism, because not all voices deserve equal time. The authors instead suggest keeping the news "comprehensive and proportional," so that the time allotted to various parties in an issue is proportional to their role or importance in that issue.
And so, perhaps Kovach and Rosenstiel aren't so crazy, after all. In fact, the book is full of sensible arguments like these, making it a fascinating read; what I've discussed here is only the tip of the iceberg.
I highly recommend it!
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Daniel C. Wilcock on December 18, 2003
Format: Paperback
If you are a reporter, an editor, a source, a media-critic or just want to be more informed about the people informing you -- buy this slim little treasure trove of clear, well-written prose.
It is remarkable for its honest portrait of American journalism circa the New Millenium. It is designed to be a primer for citizens, journalists and journalism students in the issues surrounding:
2)Commercial Pressures
4)The Future
And unlike most media-critic books, this one doesn't have a political chip on its shoulder. Nor does it take an arrogant tone, despite it's axiomatic nature (to paraphrase Carl Sessions Stepp).
It's actually a pretty humble assesment by two people who care a lot about journalism.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Craig Faustus Buck on April 6, 2001
Format: Hardcover
The authors clearly had "The Elements of Style" in mind when they wrote this book, and "The Elements of Journalism" has what it takes to become that same sort of indispensable classic. Everyone who aspires to become a journalist, who makes a living as a journalist, or who consumes journalism and wants to sharpen his or her critical skills should read this book. Moreover, "The Elements of Journalism" seems to be sparking a renewed national debate on the vital role of journalism in a free society and the professional standards that are required to effectively play that role. In an age of nonjournalistic corporations gobbling up journalistic media and spitting it out as "infotainment," the articulation of these standards is more important than ever. Bravo!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By aewp on November 24, 2004
Format: Paperback
For my journalism class, I had to choose a book of merit about the media. "The Elements of Journalism" doesn't disappoint. This book takes the form of an instructional guide in that its objective does tell what journalists should be doing in order to create an effective press and what the public should expect from it. I find "The Elements of Journalism" to be of great use since it outlines what every budding journalist should follow to maintain ethics, objectivity, and truth in their work. It even describes man's history with the need for communication and a briefing of journalism's role in history. The book is written with clarity and the topics flow together. I also noticed that Kovach and Rosentiel developed many "theories" of the media-which all seem true too.

What will always stay with me is the "The Theory of the Interlocking Public"-that states that everyone has an interest and is an expert in something. We need to be knowledgeable about the realistic description of how people interact with the news in order to present information as accurately as possible so that an individual group is not drawn to an article but a WHOLE variety of people depending on their level of knowledge about the world. Good journalism targets each level. I always remember this while writing an article for the paper.

As for what citizens should expect from the press, I admired the quote "The marketplace fails if we as citizens are passive, willing to put up with a diminishing product because we have no alternative. It works only if we act with a voice and a reason." It basically means that the purpose of a press (to convey the information that people need to be sovereign) will deteriorate if the people don't take action and speak up in what they believe in and hold true.

And, I can go on and on....because this book is so full of insightful information. I recommend it for anybody interested in the workings of the media.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 17, 2001
Format: Hardcover
After researching the problems in modern journalism, Kovach and Rosenstiel got the input of journalists and others around the country on the crucial question of how to rediscover and rearticulate the essence of journalists' craft and the role of journalists in society. That is the inspiration and the subject of the book. But this is much more than a rulebook for journalists -- it also explores the critical relationship between those who cover the news and those of us who are consumers of the news. It is serious stuff. It is also exceptionally well-written, fascinating and important. For anyone concerned about the way the news is made and interested in a thoughtful critique and useful suggestions, this is the book for you. Buy it!
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