As Fowler Distinguished Chair in Communication‚ Witt favors a civic approach to journalism

When covering a story‚ should a reporter be content to gather information only from the candidate‚ politician or policy maker who has created the news‚ or does a reporter have a responsibility to include in the story the points of view of those affected by the news?

Georgia (Apr 21, 2003) — When covering a story‚ should a reporter be content to gather information only from the candidate‚ politician or policy maker who has created the news‚ or does a reporter have a responsibility to include in the story the points of view of those affected by the news?



That question brought about the advent of civic journalism in the 1980s‚ and is an area of research for Leonard Witt‚ the first holder of Kennesaw State University’s newly endowed Robert D. Fowler Distinguished Chair in Communication. He was previously executive director of Minnesota Public Radio’s Civic Journalist Initiative.



"Civic journalism came out of the 1988 presidential campaign‚" Witt explained. "Journalists felt that the election was run by the candidates' spin doctors. We wrote what the spin doctors wanted. The issues that the candidates put forth were not the people’s issues." Following the election‚ some journalists began to question the practice of ignoring issues that are important to citizens‚ while reporting only the information candidates release‚ Witt continued.



Hired by Kennesaw State in August 2002 because of his expertise in civic journalism‚ Witt has made KSU the home of the international Public Journalism Network (the terms public and civic journalism are synonymous) and has been elected the network’s first president. The Public Journalism Network is a global professional association of journalists and educators interested in exploring and strengthening the relationship between journalism and democracy.



Witt has also been talking with WABE‚ Atlanta’s public radio station‚ about producing projects similar to those he produced for Minnesota Public Radio. "We brought together everyday citizens and stakeholders to talk about public policy issues and then amplified what they said on the radio‚ in print and on the Internet‚" Witt said.



The Community Voice Empowerment Center is Witt’s third civic journalism initiative. Working with Dr. Katherine Kinnick‚ "we will teach people in nonprofits and grass−roots organizations how to get their voices heard by the media and by policy makers‚" said Witt. "We’ll teach op/ed writing skills‚ public speaking skills‚ how to lobby and how to deal with and understand the press."



Detractors call civic journalism "soft news" or a "PR gimmick‚" said Witt. They question how reporters can be objective while crusading for certain issues.



Despite the concerns of those who question civic journalism‚ its advent has given reporters a new way to look at the stories of a diverse and fragmented culture and to consider whether the only legitimate angle for reporting those stories is top down.





A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 35,000 students. With 13 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university's vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. A Carnegie-designated doctoral institution, it is one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.

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