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The civic journalism movement (also known as public journalism) is, according to professor David K. Perry of the University of Alabama, an attempt to abandon the notion that journalists and their audiences are spectators in political and social processes. In its place, the civic journalism movement seeks to treat readers and community members as participants. With a small but committed following, civic journalism has become as much of a philosophy as it is a practice.
According to the now dormant Pew Center for Civic Journalism, the practice "is both a philosophy and a set of values supported by some evolving techniques to reflect both of those in journalism. At its heart is a belief that journalism has an obligation to public life â an obligation that goes beyond just telling the news or unloading lots of facts. The way we do our journalism affects the way public life goes." Leading organizations in the field such as the now dormant Pew Center, the Kettering Foundation, the Civic and Citizen Journalism Interest Group in the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) and the Public Journalism Network assist with the spread of civic journalism across the countryâone university and one paper at a time.
According to The Roots of Civic Journalism by David K. Perry, the practitioners of civic journalism â- who saw the movement's most drastic growth in the early 1990s â- have always adhered to the basic tenets of public journalism:
Usually formulated by a few devoted members in a newsroom, civic journalism projects are typically associated with the opinion section of papers. These projects are usually found in the form of organized town meetings and adult education programs. The Public Journalism Network explains that "journalism and democracy work best when news, information and ideas flow freely; when news portrays the full range and variety of life and culture of all communities; when public deliberation is encouraged and amplified; and when news helps people function as political actors and not just as political consumers."
In a National Public Radio interview Merritt succinctly summed up civic journalism as, "a set of values about the craft that recognizes and acts upon the interdependence between journalism and democracy. It values the concerns of citizens over the needs of the media and political actors, and conceives of citizens as stakeholders in the democratic process rather than as merely victims, spectators or inevitable adversaries. As inherent participants in the process, we should do our work in ways that aid in the resolution of public problems by fostering broad citizen engagement."
The Citizen Voices Project was one newspaperâs attempt to facilitate civic conversation within the diverse city of Philadelphia. Citizen Voices came in to effect in 1999, during a very close mayoral election between a black democrat and a white republican. Citizen Voices was modeled on the National Issues Forum and was intended to amplify minority voices not frequently acknowledged in the political realm. Forums were held throughout the city, facilitating deliberation of the most important issues facing citizens: jobs, neighborhoods, public safety, and reforming city hall. Essays written by Citizen Voices participants were published in the commentary pages of The Philadelphia Inquirer, while the editorial board framed its coverage of the campaign around the five designated issues. While the Citizen Voices Project did not increase voter turnout, it has given journalists a new perspective on how to cover urban political issues.
In Seattle, the Front Porch Forum was introduced in 1994 through a partnership between The Seattle Times newspaper, KUOW-FM radio station and the Pew Center for Civic Journalism. The mission of the Front Porch Forum was to strengthen communities through news coverage that focuses on citizensâ concerns, encourages civic participation, improves public deliberation and reconnects citizens, candidates and reporters to community life. Over the course of 5 â½ years, The Seattle Times and KUOW-FM featured a series of stories highlighting issues that affect Seattle residents, and encouraged readers' participation.
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