I’m working on a conference essay for the American Political Science Association. I have a question (or a bunch of them). Perhaps Rhetorica readers can help me.
Does one serve an audience by treating it as an object of reporting?
This question brought me to a stop as I was considering my topic — a case study in how a newspaper covers the poor (especially the working poor) in a town with a high percentage of its population working minimum-wage service jobs and living below the poverty line. If the primary purpose of journalism is to give citizens the information they need to be free and self-governing (Kovach & Rosenstiel 2007), does this suggest that such information is the same for all socio-economic levels?
What kind of journalism do the working poor need? What kind of journalism do the working poor want? What kind of journalism makes any particular group visible to the audience in the way that group understands itself? What type of journalism leads to political/economic visibility and efficacy?
To see where I’m going with this, check out these quotes from Herbert Gans from a Q&A at the Nieman Journalism Lab:
Multiperspectival news reporting is more diverse. It seeks news about other subjects that are newsworthy for the variety of audiences in the total news audience; it obtains news from many other sources, including ordinary citizens, and it reports a variety of political, ideological, and social viewpoints (or perspectives).
Here’s my favorite example. Poor audiences need business news like everyone else, but not about investing in the stock market or the latest newsworthy acts, legal or illegal, by corporate bigwigs. They need to know about the businesses in which they can afford to shop and the ones that will hire them, as well as the charitable and public agencies that can help them when they are jobless and in need.
I find the idea of journalists as representatives [of citizens] intriguing, in part because the U.S. is an upscale democracy, the politics of which is dominated by corporate campaign funders and the upper-middle-income population that votes and participates more actively than the rest.
As a result, U.S. politics does a poor job of representing the remainder of the citizenry, especially those earning below the median income and various numerical minorities.
Journalists are not elected officials and they cannot be political representatives or advocates but they can represent people in a variety of other ways, for example by turning their experiences and problems into news, and by asking politicians and other authoritative sources questions to which unrepresented and poorly represented citizens need answers.