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New Book on Citizen-Engaged Press is from ODU's St. John

Burton St. John

The new book "Public Journalism 2.0: The Promise and Reality of a Citizen-Engaged Press" poses an interesting question. Can Internet news gatherers who are not traditional, professional journalists help regenerate the movement - called public or civic journalism - that was first envisioned two decades ago by a loose-knit group of newspaper editors and academics?

Burton St. John III, an Old Dominion University assistant professor of communication, answers with a qualified yes.

He contributed essays to "Public Journalism 2.0" and edited it together with colleague Jack Rosenberry of St. John Fisher College in Rochester, N.Y. The book was published earlier this year by Routledge.

The two professors describe public journalism as a movement to help newspeople become more engaged with the communities on which they are reporting. In other words, movement proponents hoped reporters would become insiders, not outsiders who keep the community at arm's length. News presented by engaged professionals, the movement leaders believed, would help communities become more cohesive, and better able to identify and support beneficial initiatives.

While the book's essayists acknowledge that public journalism has slipped in importance in the news media, they document the remarkable growth of a new kind of reportage by non-professional citizens, most of whom use the Internet. So the question arises: Can the public journalism movement find common ground with citizens and non-traditional journalists?

The book addresses the possibility that news posted on the Internet by non-professionals will have an overall divisive influence on communities and societies, or simply be disorganized and ineffectual.

"There is no denying that having many independent voices contributing to the coverage of a community has certain benefits when compared to the limited perspectives available in a mass-media gate-keeping model," St. John and Rosenberry write in the book's conclusion. "However, just putting all of those voices out there offers no guarantee of a common view coalescing or of a public forming, mobilized for action. This is particularly true when many contributions from the public are of a decidedly private nature or from a narrow, personalized viewpoint."

The editors believe today's professional journalists need to reach out to citizens who want to be involved in news coverage in their communities. "(S)ince professional news workers have the benefits that come from both practice and education, they also should have the responsibility of provoking a resurgence in meaningful community-focused news by collaborating with citizen-contributors."

The book includes essays from 15 contributors, including James K. Batten, the late chief executive of Knight-Ridder Inc.; Lewis A. Friedland, professor of journalism and an affiliated professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Tanni Haas, professor of communication studies at Rutgers University; and Jan Schaffer, executive director of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism.

St. John, who joined ODU in 2005 after receiving his Ph.D. from Saint Louis University, has nearly two decades of experience in public relations and broadcasting. His book, "Press Professionalization and Propaganda: The Rise of Journalistic Double-Mindedness, 1917-1941," is scheduled for release by Cambria Press this summer. St. John also has written about the press, the public sphere and propaganda for the Journal of Mass Media Ethics, Journalism Studies, The Communication Review, Public Relations Review, Journalism History and American Journalism.

Rosenberry worked more than two decades for newspapers before joining the St. John Fisher faculty. He received his Ph.D. in 2005 from State University of New York at Buffalo. He is an author of "Applied Mass Communication Theory: A Guide for Media Practitioners" (Pearson/Allyn & Bacon, 2009).

This article was posted on: April 6, 2010

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