February 07, 2004

Servant Journalism

Jeff Jarvis raises a question: Is political reporting really reporting? He answers: No, because “reporting is all about getting information the audience can't get … (and) most of the material that's reported is available to all of us on the Internet?”

While I think it’s fair to say that the concept of reporting extends beyond the delivery of information to the selection of information by the reporter – which, of course, many people in today’s disintermediated-minded world will argue is not a good thing – Jeff uses the widespread availability on the Internet of political source material to make an important point about the focus of political reporting: It’s backward.

“Political reporting misses the real story,” he says. “It needs to turn around and look the other way. The story isn't up on the stump; that's the obvious, easy stuff. No, the story is out in the hustings. The real story is the voters.”(Emphasis added.)

This is correct, and as a journalistic concept it addresses one of the news media’s – and particularly newspapers' because of their local nature – core weaknesses: Reporters tend to identify more with their sources than with their audience.

Along that line of thinking, I left the following in Jeff’s comments:

I interviewed someone from the Berkeley Media Studies Group last week for project about news media coverage of crime and violence and your comment that reporters need to do a collective about face from the candidates to the crowd reminded me of something that person told me.

She said that journalist Jane Stevens, who you might remember from your ink-stained past, says broadcasters need to “turn the camera around” when reporting on crime, particularly in communities with high rates of violence and reporters need to ask this question: “What’s happening in this neighborhood that leads to these situations that bring these news cameras here nightly?”

Journalists overly focus on institutions and institutional figures such as politicians to the detriment of the people those institutions were created to serve.

I have been rolling around the term "servant journalism" as a description of a type of reporting driven from the public up instead of the reverse. It is a way of doing journalism that seeks out, listens to and examines the voices of a community -- a literal or a figurative community -- and then bases its reporting on the needs of that community.



Posted by Tim Porter at February 7, 2004 10:14 AM