These are tough times for journalism. Newsroom executives' bonuses tend to be based on their company's profit margin. Journalists are constantly jockeying for the time and space necessary to tell their stories as they see fit. Only 47 percent of Americans even read a newspaper. And Time and Newsweek--news magazines, remember?--"were seven times more likely to have the same cover story as People magazine in 1997 than in 1977."
It's no wonder that in 1997, the Committee of Concerned Journalists formed to "engage journalists and the public in a careful examination of what journalism was supposed to be." The Elements of Journalism reports the results of that study, which included 21 public forums (attended by 3,000 people), in-depth interviews with 100 journalists, editorial content studies, and research into the history of journalism. Part of what the committee members learned, they already knew. Journalism is complicated business: journalists are paid by management but work for the citizens; they tend to be self-taught (there is little evidence of mentoring and much disdain for journalism schools); and they need to be objective even when they're not impartial. This has always been the case. But the committee also detected a trend, one abundantly evident to anyone who has tried to find news on the evening TV news: "news was becoming entertainment and entertainment news."
"Unless we can grasp and reclaim the theory of a free press," warn Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, the book's authors, "journalists risk allowing their profession to disappear."