Jumat, 04 Januari 2008


By Akhmad Kusaeni

I believe public journalism can be a key to assure the survival of the media in the future.

Why? Because I believe what Jan Schaffer said when he created Pew Center for Civic Journalism around 11 years ago. He said, “When the media does its job differently, citizen do their jobs differently”.

Yes, when you seed innovation in newsrooms, you get new ideas.

There was concerned that media were out of touch with their readers and viewers. Media tend to report stories based on elite –the rich and powerful—perspective.

In political coverage, for instance, media had turned election campaigns into what Sheila S Coronel calls as “cockfight, horserace, and boxing match”. Media coverage of elections, in the Philippines, Indonesia and elsewhere, has been criticized for its superficiality. Media focus on personalities rather than issues and platforms. Thus, stories of conflict, competition, and controversy dominate.

We, journalists, were doing a great job of covering the election campaign –what the candidates spin doctors, PR people and campaign strategists do. But a lousy job of covering the elections: what the voters do.

Robert Entman in “The Dilemma of Journalism: Democracy Without Citizen”, wrote that elite make most of the national news. The newsmakers who set the agenda are the one who control policy outcomes in Washington: top officials in the White House and executive branch agencies, member of Congress, think-tank experts, former government officials and elder statesmen still involved in politics. They have a stake in what is reported. News reports can advance or undermine the policy proposals they wanted enacted or privileges they want maintained. The information they provided is tainted.

To become informed and hold government accountable, the general publics need to obtain news that conveys facts and outcomes, not cosmetic images and empty promises. The news media should serve as watchdog and offer voice to the forgotten.

That’s why people need another kind of journalism, which is different with this conventional day-to-day journalism. People need public journalism that put citizen perspective into the angle of the news and stories.

Public journalists, as Jan Schaffer always says, try to ensure that all the people affected by the issue –all the stakeholders—have a voice in the story, not just the proponents of the most extreme viewpoints who send us their press releases (and sometimes envelopes full of money, vouchers or gift certificates).

We have to go back to basic. Bill Kovach says the first loyalty of journalism is to citizen, not to the elite, the rich and powerful. We should not be an agent of power or the megaphone or the mouthpiece of elite. We should give voice to people who need voice…people who are powerless.

Only with public journalism that ideal can be achieved. And only with public journalism the media could survive from decreasing its readerships and credibility.

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