Former Washington Bureau Chief
Los Angeles Times
In 1960, I received the Pulitzer Prize for my coverage of the Milledgeville (Georgia) State Hospital. At the time, it was the nation's largest mental institution, with 12,500 patients and just 48 doctors. Conditions were deplorable. It was a snakepit, a warehouse for humans.
My Milledgeville reporting taught me an important journalism lesson: You should always follow up reports exposing bad conditions with additional reports on proposals to reform or correct the conditions. After the Atlanta Constitution published the Milledgeville series, an editor assigned me to go to Kansas and write a series about its outstanding mental health reform program. I wasn't enthusiastic but my editor was right. The Kansas series demonstrated that the newspaper cared as much about reform as it did about an expose. And it served as a blueprint for reforming Georgia's mental health program.
Too often today much of the news media seems obsessed with reporting problems -- almost to the extent of ignoring or excluding solutions.
Civic journalism is an attempt to bring the average citizen into the process of journalism to solve social problems. It brings in people who would not normally be involved in governmental solutions and engages people who are normally left out of the process.
And that helps improve the credibility of newspapers, which is very important. The popularity of newspapers is the lowest it's been at any time in my career. Not that we're looking for popularity, but when you're as unpopular as we are, you need to look for what's wrong. I think part of what's wrong is that we look too much at problems and not enough at what to do about them. Civic journalism is a remedy.