- Series: The Joanna Jackson Goldman Memorial Lectures on American Civilization and Government
- Paperback: 160 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press (October 1, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674616235
- ISBN-13: 978-0674616233
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.4 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,074,243 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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What the People Know: Freedom and the Press (The Joanna Jackson Goldman Memorial Lectures on American Civilization and Government)
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Richard Reeves is a respected veteran journalist who wants fellow journalists to concentrate on ferreting out the truth without fear or favor. That sounds like a mundane topic for a book. After all, what else would journalists be expected to do? But Reeves's What the People Know is anything but mundane because so many journalists either have no idea how to ferret out the truth, or seem to have forgotten that part of their job...[This book]--part personal reminiscence, part media critique...[is] worthwhile [reading] for anybody who cares about Reeves's illustrious career or the state of journalism. (Steve Weinberg Christian Science Monitor)
Journalists are romantics. They look back with pride to the heyday of their craft, when reporters in snap-brim fedoras, their sleeves pulled up by armbands, could be found fearlessly taking notes in war zones and corrupt city halls...Richard Reeves, who worked his way up from the Newark Evening News to become the chief political correspondent for the New York Times, treasures those days too. He deeply regrets what has happened to the American press in his lifetime. Newspapers have been the playthings of rich owners for decades; but now, much worse, they are small and expendable parts of huge entertainment empires...Can [the press] scramble back again? Only, Mr. Reeves believes, if journalists recover their old role of being onlookers and outsiders, rather than imagining themselves as central players in the body politic...They do not need to wear those fedoras. But they do need to watch, and write. (The Economist)
What the People Know avoids the perils of droning pendantry. It is fast-moving and full of history and anecdotes...Reeves wisely spends much of his energy focusing on the kind of corporate corruption of journalism that has not really permeated the consciousness of an American public willing to believe every conspiracy theory about the media except the most dangerous. (Mark Jurkowitz Boston Globe)
Richard Reeves, a journalist of good sense and long experience, avoids both pretentiousness and what he calls 'Old Fartism' while asking whether journalism as he has known it can survive. He is more concerned than alarmed, but warns that big money, the entertainment ethos, and hubris threaten to swamp the reportorial tradition--that is, the tradition of the outsiders who try to tell the truth about what the public needs to know. but he invokes history to show that journalism has encountered and persisted through bad times before. (Columbia Journalism Review)
Journalist Richard Reeves gets right to the point: the American press has fouled its own nest by trying to give readers what pollsters and focus groups say they want, rather than what readers really need: hard news about what is going on around them. Entertainment, not news, drives the news media these days, he says. Even those who focus on hard news from government officials have done so with a corrosive cynicism 'and self-destructive journalistic hubris' that created two problems: it increased public scorn of politics and diminished the press at the same time...A highly respected reporter, columnist, author and professor of journalism, Reeves has written in What the People Know a lively, brisk indictment of the rocky path the craft has followed lately. (Jack Betts Charlotte Observer)
[Reeves] succinctly covers many of those trends that worry other critics of the profession: the ever-increasing takeover of newspapers by corporations, the emphasis on profits at the expense of newsroom resources, the disproportionate reliance on advertising rather than subscriber revenue, the shift in focus from news to entertainment. What perhaps distinguishes Reeves' book from that of previous press critics is his discussion of the implications of technology...Reeves' book would make an excellent textbook or supplemental reading for any course dealing with new media or with media management. It's a quick read, and should provide hours and hours of classroom discussion. (Daniel J. Foley Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly)
Reeves feels that a lot of journalism has been 'blood, fire, sports, sex, mixed with stories to make you feel good about yourself and bad about your government.' But as an experienced reporter for the New York Times and the creator of award-winning television documentaries, he still believes that journalists are crucial, irreplaceable contributors to a democratic society. [This book] reconciles his skepticism and faith with vivid arguments of seasoned optimism...Reeves's seasoned, passionately optimistic treatise should inform and inspire both media consumers and journalists alike. (Publishers Weekly)
Journalist Reeves has been chief political correspondent for the New York Times and an editor and columnist for New York magazine and Esquire...We might listen, then, when he takes the high moral ground journalistically, arguing that after its spectacular successes reporting segregation, Vietnam, and Watergate, the press has become less of a watchdog and more willing to bare its fangs at politicians (who have become easy targets) while letting up on corporate conglomerates (who increasingly own newspapers and broadcasting companies and are more likely to bite back with lawsuits). Meanwhile, the press gives us the soft stories that we apparently want. In this short, gracefully argued book, Reeves offers convincing reasons for this decline and a plea for journalism to return to its roots. Strongly recommended for larger public and academic libraries. (Jim G. Burns Library Journal)
Reporting the news was once a fairly simple and, for Reeves, exciting and honorable task: get the story, get it right, report it. Today, however, journalism 'is in a crisis of change and redefinition'...In its post-Watergate zealousness to portray all politicians as crooks and all politics as corrupt, [journalism] helped create a public mood of cynical lack of interest in public affairs...[But] Reeves sees a continuing role for journalism, and that is simply to tell what 'you and I need to keep our freedom--accurate timely information on laws and wars, police and politicians, taxes and toxics'...[Reeves] gets the story and gets it right. Nice reporting. (Kirkus Reviews)
From the Back Cover
The power and status of the press in America reached new heights after spectacular reporting triumphs in the segregated South, in Vietnam, and in Washington during the Watergate years. Then new technologies created instantaneous global reporting, which left the government unable to control the flow of information to the nation. The press thus became a formidable rival in critical struggles to control what the people know and when they know it. But that was more power than the press could handle -- and journalism crashed toward new lows in public esteem and public purpose.
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Doubts began to arise in the 1960's, with a variety of revelations. Hugh Hefner said "sex is fun" and people discovered he was right. Various president's ordered hundreds of thousands of Americans to risk their lives in Vietnam, but didn't offer a similar national commitment. Auto executives churned out cars that exploded in rear-end collisions, refusing to spend a couple of dollars per car to correct the problem. After a president resigned -- not before -- Barry Goldwater called him "the most dishonest man I ever met."
Reeves seems surprised that such questioning includes the news media. His book is a wonderful collection of the doubts afflicting the media, and the very valid reasons for such distrust. Any reporter with a couple of years experience can recount horror stories of unethical editors and publishers who believe and act as if they are the most powerful people in the community. Remember the old adage, "If you talk to God, you're praying; if God talks to you, you're nuts." Some editors believe, "If you endorse our editorials, you're a good citizen; if you question our wisdom, you're nuts."
Think of Reeves as the `Martin Luther' of journalism; his book tacks his theses to the door of today's most arrogant institution. In response, the "Reformation" is here -- it's called the Internet.
Fifty years ago, in the "golden age" of journalism, some people bought a newspaper for a single reason -- for sports, stock tables, weather, comics, advice columns, crossword puzzles or other single purposes. The rest was thrown away. Now, the Internet provides such information directly and with less hassle. Newspapers will never recapture such shallow readers.
Only the media analyzes itself in full public view. The Catholic Church doesn't publicize the sexual liaisons of priests with young boys -- and, in some cases, young women. Critics of priestly failings are all noise and hate with no insight, wisdom or mercy; despite that, no priest would dare issue a book admitting, "We've got problems, and here's a solution." But, the news media is its own toughest critic -- as Reeves shows. The Janet Cooks and Duke Tullys are national embarrassments featured by the media to deter others from making similar mistakes.
Reeves criticizes the media with insight, mercy and rational analysis; he avoids egregious examples and partisan twaddle. Read the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times every day for a few weeks, and you'll understand how "truth" is so variable. Both offer vigorous, intelligent and often opposite editorial opinions by highly intelligent writers; it's what happens in a free society. Only tyrannies celebrate consensus, conformity and conservatism. The fault is not with opinions, it is with mealy-mouth publishers who think circulation depends on being so bland that the paper is "everyone's friend."
The grimmest fault of the media is the oldest story in the world, "No guts, no glory." When you have gutless publishers, reporters become equally gutless -- and the public deserts to "bold new media" such as the Internet. Sadly, Reeves failed to suggest a solution. Quite simply, take a theme from his favorite movie, The Front Page (1931 version), and get editors back to the three-martini breakfast and a gin bottle in the bottom desk drawer -- you can buy courage by the quart, if that's what it takes to give them guts.
Respect isn't earned by licking every boot in the community, it comes from a basic principle of old fashioned journalism, "Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable." Sure, it takes guts. Maybe it's why Reeves, brilliant at outlining problems, fails to offer solutions. After all, someone may challenge him with a better idea. Remember, he's one of the professors who train modern journalists.
That is his only weakness. His book is a wonderful analysis of problems facing conscientious journalists, probably the best in the recent spate of criticism. First, read it; then, disagree with my analysis. See? You're already on the road to a solution.