N. Christian Anderson III
Publisher and CEO
The Orange County Register
In my mind, civic journalism and public service journalism ought to be synonymous.
When I was publisher of The Gazette in Colorado Springs, we wrote about a bond issue in the area's largest school district. Voters had not been able to pass a bond issue for 20 years and when it came up on the ballot again, we decided to look at it through the eyes of different constituents -- students, parents, opponents, educators. It was a very different take on an election story.
We could have gotten the people who stake out extreme positions -- the teachers union and the anti-tax forces -- but we included people who had mixed feelings. That got us away from this notion of living at the extremes.
Historically, newspapers are not very good at reporting on ambivalence. But struggling with an issue is far more common than having everything figured out.
I wouldn't want to take the credit or the blame for the fact that the bond issue passed. But I will say that series caused people to think differently about the schools in our community -- not simply, "Should we pay more taxes or not?"
And that's one of the most important parts of civic journalism. It brings more than the "usual suspects" into our coverage. It broadens our coverage and causes us to look differently at people and their involvement in the community.