The civic journalism movement (also known as public journalism) is an attempt to abandon the notion that journalists and their audiences are spectators in political and social processes. In its place, the civic journalism movement seeks to treat readers and community members as participants. With a small, but growing following, civic journalism has become as much of an ideology as it is a practice.


According to the Pew Center for civic journalism, the practice "is both a philosophy and a set of values supported by some evolving techniques to reflect both of those in journalism. At its heart is a belief that journalism has an obligation to public life – an obligation that goes beyond just telling the news or unloading lots of facts." Leading organizations in the field such as the Pew Center, the Kettering Foundation and the Public Journalism Network are assisting with the spread of civic journalism across the country—one university and one paper at a time.

Main Tenets[]

According to The Roots of Civic Journalism by David K. Perry, the practitioners of civic journalism –- who saw the movement's most drastic growth in the early 1990’s –- have always adhered to the basic tenets of public journalism:

  • Attempting to situate newspapers and journalists as active participants in community life, rather than as detached spectators.
  • Making a newspaper a forum for discussion of community issues.
  • Favoring the issues, events and problems important to ordinary people.
  • Considering public opinion through the process of discussion and debate among members of a community.
  • Attempting to use journalism to enhance social capital.


Usually formulated by a few devoted members in a newsroom, civic journalism projects are typically associated with the opinion section of papers. These projects are usually found in the form of organized town meetings and adult education programs. The Public Journalism Network explains that "journalism and democracy work best when news, information and ideas flow freely; when news portrays the full range and variety of life and culture of all communities; when public deliberation is encouraged and amplified; and when news helps people function as political actors and not just as political consumers."

Key Proponents of Civic Journalism[]

  • David Mathews, president of the Kettering Foundation and a supporter of civic journalism states that, "when people are in the business of making choices, they are going to look for information to inform their choices." Mathews affirms that civic journalism is aimed at aligning journalistic practices with the ways that citizens form publics, in turn creating a more efficient and reciprocal way of communicating with readers.
  • Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University, is one of the earliest proponents of civic journalism. From 1998-99, Rosen wrote and spoke frequently about civic journalism. He published his book, What Are Journalists For? in 1999 about the early rise of the civic journalism movement. Rosen writes a popular blog called PressThink.
  • W. Davis "Buzz" Merritt Jr., a former editor of The Wichita Eagle, is another pioneer of civic journalism. Merritt is a key advocate for news media reforms, and published his book Public Journalism and Public Life in 1995. Merritt began exploring civic journalism after acknowledging loss of public trust in traditional journalistic values. Merritt feels that journalists need a clear understanding and appreciation for the interdependence of journalism and democracy.

Merritt's View[]

In a National Public Radio interview Merritt succinctly summed up civic journalism as, "a set of values about the craft that recognizes and acts upon the interdependence between journalism and democracy. It values the concerns of citizens over the needs of the media and political actors, and conceives of citizens as stakeholders in the democratic process rather than as merely victims, spectators or inevitable adversaries. As inherent participants in the process, we should do our work in ways that aid in the resolution of public problems by fostering broad citizen engagement."

Case Studies[]

  • Citizen Voices

The Citizen Voices Project was one newspaper’s attempt to facilitate civic conversation within the diverse city of Philadelphia. Citizen Voices came in to effect in 1999, during a very close mayoral election between a black democrat and a white republican. Citizen Voices was modeled on the National Issues Forum and was intended to amplify minority voices not frequently acknowledged in the political realm. Forums were held throughout the city, facilitating deliberation of the most important issues facing citizens: jobs, neighborhoods, public safety, and reforming city hall. Essays written by Citizen Voices participants were published in the commentary pages of The Philadelphia Inquirer, while the editorial board framed its coverage of the campaign around the five designated issues. While the Citizen Voices Project did not increase voter turnout, it has given journalists a new perspective on how to cover urban political issues.

  • Front Porch Forum

In Seattle, the Front Porch Forum was introduced in 1994 through a partnership between The Seattle Times newspaper, KUOW radio station and the Pew Center for Civic Journalism. The mission of the Front Porch Forum was to strengthen communities through news coverage that focuses on citizens’ concerns, encourages civic participation, improves public deliberation and reconnects citizens, candidates and reporters to community life. Over the course of 5 ½ years, The Seattle Times and KUOW featured a series of stories highlighting issues that affect Seattle residents, and encouraged reader’s participation.

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Credit and categories[]

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