Civic Journalism is an effort by print and broadcast journalists to reach out to the public more aggressively in the reporting process, to listen to how citizens frame their problems and what citizens see as solutions to those problems. And then to use that information to enrich their newspaper or broadcast report. It is being practiced by newspapers and television stations in many cities, big and small.
The Pew Center for Civic Journalism was created in 1994 as the centerpiece of The Pew Charitable Trusts' initiative, "Renewing our Democratic Heart," to help stimulate citizen involvement in community issues through the news media. The project partners several major print and broadcast news organizations, helping them reconnect to their communities so they can engage their citizens in dialogues that can lead to problem solving. The Pew Charitable Trusts are a group of seven trusts, based in Philadelphia, established by sons and daughters of the Mrs. and Mrs. Joseph N. Pew, founder of the Sun Oil Co.
"Civic Journalism: Six Case Studies " is a joint report by the Pew Center
and the Poynter Institute for Media Studies that steps into the newsrooms of six civic
journalism partnerships. The 56-page booklet examines three community initiatives:
"Taking Back our Neighborhoods/ Carolina Crime Solutions" in Charlotte, N.C.; "We
the People, Wisconsin" in Madison, Wis.; and "The Public Agenda" in Tallahassee, Fla.
It also looks at three 1994 election projects: "The People's Voice" in Boston; the "Voice
of the Voter" in San Francisco and "Front Porch Forum" in Seattle.
To order, call the Pew Center 202-331-3200. No charge for the first copy. Additional copies are $2.95 each for postage and handling.
The Pew Center's new 33-minute video, "Civic Journalism," is available as
a training tool for classrooms or newsrooms. The video, narrated by
syndicated columnist and commentator Hodding Carter
III, outlines the philosophy and some of the techniques of civic journalism. It focuses on
two of the most time-tested civic journalism efforts that combine public participation
with old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting. In Charlotte, N.C., journalists have linked
arms with each other to understand the problem of crime and to spark a debate about
solutions in the community. In Wisconsin, a statewide effort, spearheaded by media
partners in Madison, has again and again engaged citizens in such issues as health
care, teen concerns and the state budget. The video comes with a study guide and the
To order, call 1-800-345-9556. The cost is $11.95 each for dubbing, packaging and postage. Master or Visa cards are accepted.
Civic Journalism: Does it Work? By Frank Denton and Esther
Thorson. A survey of the electorate to measure public awareness of the 1994 "We the
People" project in Madison, Wis. Respondents said the project made them more
interested in and knowledgeable about the 1994 elections, encouraged them to vote,
and made them feel more positive toward participating news organizations.
Tapping the Layers of Civic Life, Ongoing Research in Wichita, Kan., by The Harwood Group. Publication due by early 1996.
Involving at least five media partnerships and focusing on four crucial states in the 1996 presidential election -- Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida and California -- the CEP is trying to bring the priorities and attitudes of the voters back into what has become the closed shop of political campaign coverage. The CEP makes available expert technical consultants, focus-group and polling services by the Harwood Group and Andrew Kohut's public-opinion research firm, plus an on-line communications capability provided by Soundprint Media Center.
The Bergen Record has embarked on a two-year "Quality of Life Project" to stimulate public dialogue about the choices its citizens face as Bergen and Passaic Counties strive to maintain their best characteristics.
In "Taking Back our Neighborhoods/Carolina Crime Solutions" the news organizations have teamed up for an in-depth examination of nine city neighborhoods beset by crime.
"Reinventing Dayton" is an exploration of key issues related to the future of the community. The initiative will poll the community to assess strengths and help set an agenda to build on assets identified by citizens. Other partners include WYSO-FM public radio in Yellow Springs, Ohio, the Miami Valley (Ohio) National Issues Forums and the Montgomery County Historical Society.
"Children First, Making Young Lives Safer" aims to put the issue of violence against children on the public policy agenda and foster solutions to improve the lives of Michigan children.
In a "Community Conversation," the partners are looking at what citizens are worried about and what they want the future Grand Forks to be.
The partners are doing in-depth stories on an issue per month and inviting citizens to discuss the problems and possible solutions.
In "Grading our Schools," the partners explored residents' attitudes toward elementary and high school education, and the performance of educators, students and parents.
The "Safer Cities" project is undertaking a "listening and enabling" exercise to tune into what people are saying about crime and safety.
In the"Your Vote Counts" project, the partners are focusing on educating citizens and on special-interest influences over the California state legislature.
"The Public Agenda" project is a three-year effort to foster a community dialogue on such key issues as race relations, crime, economic development, and the environment. Florida State and Florida A&M Universities are also participating.
The funding is not available to cover the ordinary costs of doing business, such as hiring reporters or producers, or paying for news hole or air time. They can be used, for example, for such expenses as polling, surveys or focus groups to determine the citizens' agenda, for community coordinators to help with the logistics of a project, for extraordinary production costs involved in televising town meetings or community forums.
Funds are usually disbursed through subcontracts, although non-profit
news organizations may qualify for grants.
1. Your proposal must entail doing journalism, reporting and news coverage --not such things as community organizing, block parties, newspaper in education projects.
2. You must have a plan to obtain citizen input on issues or determine the citizens' agenda in your community. Techniques for doing this can include polling, focus groups, survey research, working with existing public opinion data, convening task forces of citizens.
3) You must have other media partners. Your media partnership can be an agreement with other news organizations, preferably the dominant daily newspaper, or commercial television station, or public television and radio, or major community newspapers, or city and regional magazines.
4) You should include a training plan for your newsroom that will help reporters, editors, producers get involved.
5) You should include a budget showing how money would be spent.
6) You should propose how you might evaluate your efforts, in terms of trying to measure what impact, if any, they had on the community. Tracking letters, e-mail, fax, computer clicks, attendance at town meetings, voter results, circulation results, etc.
7) All proposals should be presented via a three to five-page memo or letter, on letterhead.