Highlights from the 1996 Batten Symposium Panels
Civic Journalism: From Citizens Up
Deputy Managing Editor
The Charlotte Observer
One of the most provocative things we did in 1992 was we actually got out of the way and we let voters talk to candidates. It's sort of amazing what happens when you step out of the way and let a person who's really going to have an impact on that candidate ask a question. It's not one they blow off. We kept understanding that more and more magic came with that.
The best lesson I've learned is to ask: Is there a middle ground here? Is there a gray area that we haven't written about? ...I finally think I understand a little bit more about ringing true and about fairness in tone and how people are critical of us for what we leave out as much as for what we put in. And sometimes authenticity is nothing more than writing about the gray.
St. Paul Pioneer Press
Public journalism is a means, not an end. It looks like a noun but it's actually a verb. It's about trying different approaches and seeing what works for us and our readers.
Public journalism is about closeness and about distance. We've got the distance part of it down clearly...but the closeness, sometimes the intimacy of our contacts, is far more important.
Listen for the things that citizens are experts at. They're experts at their own lives. Don't listen for the quick fix ...We need to hold citizens accountable just as we do the politicians. You do that in this way: First, you listen beyond the sound bite. Ask them to reconcile conflicting views. They can see the complexities of issues just as they see the complexities of their own lives. What's more, they'll find the connections between issues that too often we tend to box out.
Listen for ambivalence. Life is rarely about good guys and bad guys, winners and losers. It's about choices we make, and too often this business presents choices as Choice A or Choice B. Rarely, including at the bread line, are there only two choices. So look for the places where people are torn on an issue, where they can see that Choice A has some pieces of it that makes sense, and Choice B and Choice C. Ambivalence is the stuff of great novels, so why can't we begin to capture that?"
The Journal Star, Peoria
Just by virtue of elevating the issue in the discussion of leadership we are challenging people to recruit more people for community involvement and to find other ways of motivating them. So just by virtue of doing the project, we're already making a difference.
Elections '96: From Citizens Up
Wisconsin Public Television
Maintaining a citizen focus, doing citizen-based journalism, is enlightening. It is illuminating and insightful. It can be maddening, but not nearly as maddening as dealing with candidates.
"The People's Voice"
The Boston Globe
When candidates did get together with the voters, the results were illuminating ...Typically the citizens would stay around, talking among themselves and with the journalists, while the candidates were hustled off to their next event. It showed us how starved, in a way, citizens are for this kind of serious discussion about national problems, about having discussions like this with people from different backgrounds, and how little it occurs outside of events like the ones we were organizing.
The Portland Newspapers
An important part of this is learning to listen ...Jeannine Gutman, our managing editor, says that most people talk at a speed of 33 1/3 and journalists listen at 79 rpms ...People, when they're working through their opinions, lack the rehearsal speed that we find among politicians and we get impatient with that. We find that people keep circling the rug, not unlike a dog getting ready to lie down. They keep circling the rug before they get to the point they want to make.
...Listening most certainly is not a passive exercise. A listener needs to hear, needs to digest, to reframe the information, to paraphrase, to confirm, and to clarify, to ask questions and basically engage in a conversation ...This is hard work. It's a lot easier to talk.
Reporters listen, they hear individuals and they tend to record the conversation as discrete quotes. People tend to knit together a lot of what is being said. They take this comment and this comment and they knit them together. They tend to compare experiences and draw lessons. The difference is between describing a stitch and describing a sweater. The public is better at describing sweaters than we are.
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