What Are Journalists For?

It's the Economy, Stupid
New books dissected over email.
Jan. 3 2000 3:19 PM

What Are Journalists For?


I'm not as thoroughly dismissive of public journalism as you are, but I think we end up in the same place. To give this dialogue the semblance of a fair fight, allow me to delineate at least some things that I think Rosen and his allies get right.


  1. American journalism, especially print journalism, is in crisis. For most of the mainstream press audiences have been shrinking for some time. Serious journalism has become difficult to do in many places, and some wonder whether it's worth doing.
  2. Coverage of most political campaigns is poor and tends to focus on trivial matters. Every year, there are probably dozens of exceptions to this rule, but it seems fundamentally right to me.
  3. Journalists, as a class, seem removed from the communities they cover. Again, there are exceptions, especially in small towns, but I think it's pretty rare to see community board meetings overflowing with local journalists out to better their neighborhoods.
  4. Coverage of political issues too often gels around easy, conflict-based poles, to the detriment of anyone's understanding. I see this especially on television.

It's hard to tell from reading Rosen, but one can believe all these things and still not subscribe to the philosophy of public journalism. (Indeed, Rosen often writes as if there were no significant criticism of American journalism until about 1989.)

Where I think Rosen and company begin to fall down is with the assumptions that 1) these problems are the result of current journalistic theory and practice, and 2) it is the urgent responsibility of journalists to change the nature of what they do.

There are many, many darts to be thrown at these assumptions, but I'll start with one of the sharpest: The crisis of American journalism to which public journalism responded was largely an economic crisis. Rosen's school flourished in the early-'90s recession, when newspapers were folding, budgets were being slashed, and the Net was a place for wizards to swap software wands. Change those economic facts, and the need for public journalism recedes remarkably.

Until tomorrow,

leftyesspacer/Slate247/000103_Journalists.jpghttp://img.slate.com/mediafalseWhat Are Journalists For? by Jay Rosen20111

103158AMFridayJanJanuary101/21/2011 3:31:58 PM63431202718603277320111
103158AMFridayJanJanuary101/21/2011 3:31:58 PM634312027186032773
103158AMFridayJanJanuary101/21/2011 3:31:58 PM634312027186032773
31103AMFridayOctOctober310/19/2001 7:11:03 AM631390578630000000
31103AMFridayOctOctober310/19/2001 7:11:03 AM631390578630000000
This week, a discussion of Jay Rosen's
What Are Journalists For? (click here to buy it). James Ledbetter is the New York bureau chief of theIndustry Standard. Jack Shafer is the deputy editor of Slate.



The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10


Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.