(Disclosure: The author of this post is also a co-author of the work discussed in it.)
On this day in journalism history, Feb. 9, 1990: Knight-Ridder Corp. CEO Jim Batten offers his views on newspapers and community as he is presented with the William Allen White Award by the University of Kansas and the William Allen White Foundation.
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If there is a signalizing moment in the early history of the civic or public journalism movement, Batten’s address deserves consideration for the honor because of the prominence of the person offering the ideas (CEO of a major, well-respected news organization) and the timing, a couple of years into the experimentation that later came to be identified as public journalism.
Batten’s address was published by KU as a booklet, but copies of it have been relatively hard to come by – until now. Partly in honor of its 20th anniversary, the address been re-published (with permission of KU and the White Foundation) in a new book by CCJIG officers Jack Rosenberry and Burton St. John III, titled Public Journalism 2.0: The Promise and Reality of a Citizen Engaged Press (Routledge, 2010).
On the one hand, there was no “kick off” moment for the public journalism movement, which grew organically from various experiments – not coincidentally, many of them within Knight-Ridder. But as Rosenberry and St. John write in introducing Batten’s speech as a chapter of the work:
One must be careful about oversubscribing significance to isolated events. For example, it would be inaccurate to say that the environmental movement began with the publication of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring or that the push for African-American civil rights began with Rosa Parks’ refusal to sit at the back of the bus. Yet these happenings are seen as signal events that inspired people and helped to spread isolated and episodic initiatives into coordinated causes that touched upon concerns of the wider population.
There certainly is no direct line from the post-1988-election experiments in improved civic coverage that were among the first public journalism experiments to Batten’s speech in 1990 to the 600-plus public journalism projects identified by Sandy Nichols and Lew Friedland a few years later. But his talk was without question a blaze along the trail.
While by no means a history, Rosenberry and St. John’s book explores some of public journalism’s past as a way to inform the present evolution of participatory journalism and offer ideas for how it might enhance civic engagement. The title, in fact, is meant as a word play on “2.0” being computer lingo for an upgrade from the original version of a work and the 20th anniversary of the 1990 Batten speech. Along with Batten’s piece, the book consists of a series of contributions by journalism scholars including (in alphabetical order) Aaron Barlow, Serena Carpenter, Cathy DeShano, Lewis A. Friedland, Tanni Haas, Kirsten Johnson, Suzanne McBride, Donica Mensing, Davis “Buzz” Merritt, Kim Nakho, Joyce Nip, Sue Robinson, David Ryfe and Jan Schaffer.