October 11, 2006

In a related article on Poynter Online, Geneva Overholser proposes: “To all who anguish about the prospects for journalism, here is an
invitation: Let us turn our energy toward possibility.” The following is an excerpt from her report for the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

I. Corporate realities:

Enable corporate managers to focus on longer-term goals:

  • elect board members for longer terms
  • change incentives for investors
  • impose punitive taxes on short-term stock trading
  • provide tax forgiveness on long-term holding

Bring a greater sense of responsibility to corporate
governance of media companies:

  • appoint directors with journalism experience
  • assign responsibility to board members to monitor
    editorial performance
  • tie incentive compensation for corporate officers to
    journalistic quality
  • discontinue stock options for newsroom staff and outside

Enable shareholders to exert pressure for corporate

  • bring concept of socially responsible investing to media

Conduct research showing links between good journalism and
good business:

  • make corporate officers aware of findings

Consider units within media companies dedicated to
public-interest journalism:

  • sheltered from normal profit pressures
  • portion of online revenues devoted to this purpose

Establish partnership for quality journalism:

  • supported by funds from media companies
  • supported by foundations, nonprofits

Take public companies private:

  • interest local citizens in these still highly profitable
    media enterprises
  • get nonprofits involved

II. Not-for-profit media

Establish “Marshall Plan” by foundations and

  • increase support for non-profit media organizations
  • foster new nonprofit media models

III. Journalists’ responsibilities

A. Objectivity

  • replace with process of

B. Accountability

  • strengthen through
  • create networks to enhance
  • enhance transparency through
    use of e-mails, editors’ columns, etc.
  • media outlets conduct annual
    self-audits and make results public

C. Professionalization

  • institutionalize
  • news organizations collaborate
    to support standards for journalists
  • establish independent council to
    track, promote, define independent news function in U.S.
  • emulate national board for
    teacher certification to provide credential
  • work to ensure that journalism
    graduate degrees achieve cachet of MBA

IV. Speaking out for journalism

  • journalists should
    assume a responsibility for speaking out on behalf of viable and independent
    media as individuals and through organizations
  • focus on freedom of information
    not as media privilege but as public right
  • produce radio/television shows
    whose segments focus on reporting
  • consider
    advertising/public-relations campaigns on behalf of journalism
  • journalism educators join forces
    to speak out for journalism
  • gather leaders of journalism
    organizations, foundations, universities and other institutions to form a
    coalition in support of public service journalism and freedom of the press

V. The role of government

  • pass tax legislation to enable
    news companies to be organized as nonprofit, tax-exempt corporations
  • devote funds to be gained from
    government auction of publicly owned telecommunications spectrum to the
    provision of educational material in digital media
  • provide tax breaks for ethnic
    media and other under-heard voices
  • consider governmentally
    sponsored search engine

VI. The role of the public

  • pressure
    colleges to require civics education
  • push
    for more courses in news literacy, first amendment
  • support
    news media in schools
  • expand
    Sunshine Week activities, move from annual to greater frequency
  • create
    and distribute field guides for news consumers

VII. New forms of media

  • encourage
    entrepreneurialism among journalists
  • train
    traditional journalists in new delivery platforms
  • train new
    media practitioners in old media principles
  • provide
    tutorials for citizens in gathering and shaping news
  • create wire
    service of ethnic media to strengthen disparate voices
Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Geneva Overholser holds an endowed chair in the Missouri School of Journalism's Washington bureau. She is a former editor of the Des Moines Register, ombudsman…
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