HOLDING THE NEWS MEDIA ACCOUNTABLE: A STUDY OF MEDIA REPORTERS AND MEDIA CRITICS IN THE UNITED STATES J&MC The last decade has witnessed a significant, albeit understudied,increase in media reporting and media criticism in the U.S. newsmedia. An exploratory study of leading media reporters and mediaQ critics in the United States indicates that these journalists have considerable potential as instruments of media self-regulation. Theirimpact on other media professionals, however, is partially left unex-ploited, mainly because of the peer orientation of media critics andmedia reporters.
News media—newspapers, magazines, broadcast journalism, and
websites with journalistic content—usually start worrying about ethicsonly in times of crisis, says French scholar of mass communicationClaude-Jean Bertrand.1 In fact, codes of ethics, ombudsmen, press coun-cils, and journalism reviews have been created during times of greatsocial disaffection and “increasingly angry disillusionment” among thepublic about the news media, when people have “a growing sense ofbeing baffled and misled,” as Walter Lippmann once put it.2 For example,the first code of ethics for journalists was created in 1923, shortly afterWorld War I, following criticism about the influence of political propa-ganda and the advertising industry on news media content.3
Ombudsmen, press councils, and local journalism reviews, mean-
while, flourished in the United States during the social upheavals of thelate 1960s and early 1970s.4 They all can be called instruments of mediaself-regulation because ombudsmen, authors of journalism reviews andof codes of ethics, as well as members of press councils, are generallymedia professionals who engage in monitoring, investigating, and ana-lyzing developments in journalism and in the media business. As such,they expose mistakes, point towards potentially harmful developments,and encourage attention to ethics among journalists.
Bertrand describes press councils, codes of ethics, journalism re-
views, ombudsmen, and some nongovernmental institutions concernedwith media issues as “media accountability systems,” defined as “any
J&MC Quarterly Susanne Fengler teaches at the departments of mass communication at Freie UniversityVol. 80, No. 4 Berlin (Germany), Fribourg University, and University of Lugano (Switzerland). DataWinter 2003 for this article appeared in the author’s Ph.D. thesis, published in German under the title818-832 2003 AEJMC Medienjournalismus in den USA (Konstanz: UVK, 2002).818 JOURNALISM & MASS COMMUNICATION QUARTERLY
non-State means of making media responsible towards the public.” Sincethe State should not participate in monitoring the news media, “exceptby delivering the threats that media often need to start the process of self-regulation,” Bertrand urges media owners, media professionals, andmedia consumers to hold the news media accountable.5
But then, because media consumers often prove too “apathetic or
unorganized,”6 Bertrand emphasizes the importance of self-regulationby media owners and media professionals, who are asked not only tohold politics, business, and other systems of society accountable, but alsoto inquire if media professionals fulfill their primary responsibility,which is “to provide a good public service.”7 The goal of media account-ability systems is thus to “improve the services of the media to the public;restore the prestige of media in the eyes of the population; diverselyprotect freedom of speech and press; obtain, for the profession, theautonomy that it needs to play its part in the expansion of democracy andthe betterment of the fate of mankind.”8 To reinforce media accountabil-ity by means of media self-regulation, media professionals are limited to“moral pressure.” “But their action can be reinforced by the authority ofmedia executives or persisting legal obligations,” adds Bertrand.9
In addition to the “systems” mentioned before, Bertrand includes
“media reporting” and “media criticism” in his list of media accountabil-ity systems. He emphasizes that specialized journalists should monitorthe news media and write critically about them for a mass audience. Sincethe news media “have become one of the nervous systems in the socialbody, the public needs to be informed about them. Some journalists mustspecialize in that field so as to cover its news well and investigateuncompromisingly.” But Bertrand says: “With exceptions (usually dueto ideological animus or business rivalry), media do not criticize eachother: blind eyes are turned on the failings of colleagues. Self-criticism isalmost unknown. . In this profession, as in others, solidarity sometimesverges on collusion.”10 Although written more than fifty years later, hisconclusion recalls the 1947 Hutchins Commission’s critique, issued afterits inquiry into the social responsibility of the U.S. media: “We recom-mend that the members of the press engage in vigorous mutual criticism. Professional standards are not likely to be achieved as long as themistakes and errors, the frauds and crimes, committed by units of thepress are passed over in silence by other members of the profession.”11
Bertrand’s accusation about a lack of media criticism is no longer
valid. Since the mid-1990s, there has been “an absolute explosion of thegenre”12 of media reporting and media criticism in the United States.13Leading newspapers like the New York Times, the Washington Post, andthe Boston Globe now regularly report about developments in journalismand the media business, as do magazines like Time and The New Yorker. Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post, David Shaw of the Los AngelesTimes, Felicity Barringer of the New York Times, and Cynthia Cotts of theVillage Voice have become well-known for covering the news media. They call their relatively new beat the “media beat” and describe them-selves as “media reporters,” “media writers,” “media critics,” or “mediacolumnists,” while they speak about their journalistic work as “mediareporting” or “media criticism.”14
HOLDING THE NEWS MEDIA ACCOUNTABLE819
Today, media issues are also discussed in the broadcast media like
CNN’s “Reliable Sources,” the National Public Radio’s weekly “On theMedia,” and productions with a regional focus, such as “Beat the Press”in the Boston area. Finally, many online media have been established forsuch critiques. Among them are media consumers’ sites likeMediachannel.org and Websites for media professionals, such as JimRomenesko’s MediaNews, now part of the Poynter Institute’s Website.15In a special edition of the Columbia Journalism Review describing thebooming media beat in March 2000, James Boylan concluded: “At theturn of the century, media critics are blossoming like spring.”16
It could be argued that the impetus for this increase in media
reporting and media criticism has again been a growing public discon-tent with the news media.17 For example, the excessive reporting aboutthe O.J. Simpson case and about the affair involving former President BillClinton and White House intern Monica Lewinsky stirred intense criti-cism. The news media might have reacted by monitoring each other moreintensely; at least, many of the “media scandals” discussed in the late1990s have been investigated and publicized by the news media them-selves. For example, the Boston Phoenix was involved in exposing MikeBarnicle’s and Patricia Smith’s plagiarism and invention of quotes in theBoston Globe.18 When the Los Angeles Times entered a profit-sharingagreement with one of the subjects of its reporting, the sports center“Staples Arena,” the paper was caught by one of its local competitors—and the L.A. Times reacted with the publication of an in-depth, self-critical report about its own failure.19 Similarly, the New York Timespublished long, self-critical pieces recently after reporter Jayson Blairwas discovered to have fabricated quotes and interviews.20 Obviously,not all “mistakes and errors” have been “passed over in silence.”
Media economics also helps explain the increase in media report-
ing. The last decade was marked by numerous big-time media mergersinvolving, for example, CBS and Viacom, or AOL and Time Warner, andby a boom in the media business due to new media technologies likecable and satellite television and the Internet. Finally, media profession-als themselves have increasingly become a topic in the news media. Jonathan Yardley already laments: “The good intentions . have goneseriously awry. The laudable idea that the press should police itself in thebest way it knows how—by covering itself with the same objectivity andthoroughness it tries to bring to all other subjects—has been twisted, anddiminished into just another variation on the culture of narcissism,celebrity and gossip.”21
While many more media professionals now write and comment on
the media, little research has been done so far on media reporting andmedia criticism as a media accountability system. The bulk of academicliterature available deals with the history of media reporting and mediacriticism, or with single high-profile media critics.22 Half a dozen contentanalyses examine how the news media covered the news media’s workwith reference to specific events, such as a war or political campaigns.23Merger and acquisition activities have also been studied. Pieper and
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Hughes found that Time and CNN generally restricted their coverage ofthe merger of their parent companies to the business aspects of thetransaction, i.e., the consequences for the stock market. They left it tocompetitors the Washington Post and The Nation to question the conse-quences of the deal for the independence of the newsrooms at Time andCNN.24 Similarly, Turow found allusions to “self-censorship” in thenewsroom of Time with regard to the company’s business strategies.25Robinson’s 1983 content analysis of articles on media issues in leadingnewspapers found that most news media, with the exception of theWashington Post, shied away from criticizing themselves. Instead, printmedia emphasized the problems of the broadcast media, while nationalorganizations covered the local media.26 Northington, having surveyedtwo dozen journalists on how they reacted to being criticized in trademagazines like the Columbia Journalism Review, found that journalistsgenerally did not change their professional behavior.27
The media reporters and media critics specifically have not been
studied so far,28 but ombudsmen have been surveyed several times. Research indicates that the ombudsmen’s interest in remaining on goodterms with their peers and the news organization can interfere with theirpotential as instruments of self-regulation.29 Also missing in the contextof media reporting and media criticism are studies about media ownersand media managers as well as media consumers—if and how theyfollow the “media beat,” and what they make of the information theyreceive there.
This exploratory study of leading media reporters and media
critics in the United States involved interviewing media reporters andmedia critics about three key issues:
(1) How do these journalists cover peers and employers; are “blind
eyes” still turned on the failings of colleagues and bosses?
(2) Do they address a general audience, an “insider audience” of
(3) To what extent do they regard media reporting and media
criticism as a media accountability system?
The total number of media reporters and media critics in the United
States is small. A comprehensive list on the website MediaNews names 32“media people” (media reporters and media critics) and 37 media criticsfrom “alternative weeklies.”30 For this study, 30 media reporters andmedia critics were selected. This sample included: (a) journalists pre-sumed to have widest reach within the peer group, because they are mostwidely read by other journalists, according to Weaver and Wilhoit;31 and(b) journalists who have been proven “innovators” in the field of mediareporting and media criticism: for example, the media critic from theVillage Voice, which was a pioneer in media criticism in the 1970s; JimRomenesko, whose website MediaNews has been ground-breaking in
HOLDING THE NEWS MEDIA ACCOUNTABLE821
providing online articles on media issues; and one of the editors of thenow-defunct Brill’s Content, which sought to pioneer as a “media con-sumers’ magazine.” In addition, journalists from the Columbia JournalismReview (CJR) and the American Journalism Review (AJR) were interviewedbecause, in contrast to the other interviewees, they explicitly address aninsider audience with their trade magazines. From the sample of 30, 21journalists agreed to be interviewed in person. None of the full-time TVand radio media reporters responded or agreed to participate in thestudy. The interviews took place in the United States in November andDecember 1999.32 The average length of the interviews was 50 to 60minutes, with the longest one taking about two hours. The tapes werelater transcribed by the author.
Nine interviewees described themselves as “media writers” or
“media reporters,” with the task of objective reporting about the contentof the news media and the development of the media industry.33 Theywill henceforth be referred to, for the sake of brevity, as “media report-ers.” For example, Felicity Barringer, of the New York Times, describedherself as “a media reporter.” “That involves covering journalism, thebusiness, and lots of other things, but I abhor commenting on mycolleagues and my profession. I just describe what they do …. What’shappening with corporate earnings and mergers . what’s happening inthe coverage of a major news event .”34
Twelve interviewees emphasized their critical approach by de-
scribing themselves as “media critics” or “media columnists.” They willbe described as “media critics.”35 They said their task was to comment onthe content of the news media and the structure of the media industry;they offered “critiques”36 or “opinions,”37 or provided “checks andbalances” on the news media, as the New Yorker’s Ken Auletta put it.38However, no clear-cut distinction between the two role models has yetemerged in this nascent beat. For example, at one point media reporterMark Jurkowitz also referred to himself as a “media critic.”39
All but 2 interviewees covered or criticized the news media
full-time.40 Of the 21 journalists, 17 wrote for leading newspapers,magazines, and online publications, and could therefore potentiallyreach large audiences.41 Two interviewees, Mark Jurkowitz and GenevaOverholser, reported having worked as ombudsmen for some years, butboth had stopped doing that long before the interviews took place. Findings Peers and Employers as the Subject of Media Reporting and Media Criticism. As discussed earlier, the work and the decision-making pro- cesses of journalists have become a more frequent subject in the U.S. news media in the last decade. Many media professionals react to the public criticism with high sensitivity, according to most interviewees. For example, Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post said “you inevitably anger and alienate many people in the business who would otherwise be your friends. People are wary around you, even in your own newsroom .”42 Dan Fost said that as the San Francisco Chronicle media critic he would face “a lot of scrutiny” by the fellow journalists who followed his columns. “So you have got to make sure that you got it right.”43 822 JOURNALISM & MASS COMMUNICATION QUARTERLY
Establishing a professional distance from peers was described as
being difficult by the interviewees, because they already knew many ofthe people they write about. This was very different from covering aforeign country, for example, or a government agency. “[Y]ou’ve beenthrough a lot of what they‘ve been through,” said Felicity Barringer, theNew York Times media reporter.44 Dan Kennedy, the Boston Phoenix mediacritic, stated that it took him “an awful long time really getting comfort-able and confident in going after other journalists. I know how difficultthe job can be. Sometimes you are going after people who are moreaccomplished than you are. But then you have to step back and think, gee,if a movie critic just trashes a Stanley Kubrick film, that doesn’t mean thatthe critic thinks he should be a better director than Stanley Kubrick. I haveto put myself in the same slot.”45
Many interviewees indicated that they felt a responsibility for the
consequences of their writing. Cynthia Cotts of the Village Voice ex-pressed sympathy for the use of anonymous sources on the media beatbecause “simply to be suspected of being a source for someone like mecould jeopardize that person’s job.” Likewise, freelance journalists whoshe criticized had to fear for their livelihood afterwards, which made hermore cautious when criticizing their work.46 Similarly, Mark Jurkowitzwas aware of his influence on peers and other media organizations, andwas cautious to criticize small publications, for example.47 On the otherhand, Cynthia Cotts described “puff pieces that media journalists do,including me.” She explained that writing only critical pieces “dimin-ishes the chance of anyone ever talking to me.”48
Many interviewees identified strongly with fellow journalists.
David Shaw, the Los Angeles Times media reporter, said: “[A]ctionsthat I might have previously regarded as a result of some carefullycalculated decision, or perhaps even a conspiracy, … are very often aproduct of ignorance and stupidity and inefficiency . .”49 Like mostother interviewees, Ken Auletta was convinced that mistakes made byjournalists were often a result of the high business pressure in today’smedia companies, led increasingly by managers unfamiliar with journal-ism.50
Covering one’s own employer was likewise described as a chal-
lenge, since “you are certainly aware of your relatives.”51 However, allinterviewees stressed their efforts to avoid the impression that “you’retrying to further the interest of your own newspaper or company thatowns your newspaper.”52 Howard Kurtz always disclosed his affilia-tions, and said he would make an effort to be tougher on CNN as well asthe Post, because of his connection there.53 David Shaw said that hewould sell the Los Angeles Times shares he regularly received as soon aspossible.54 On the other hand, the interviewees also reported that al-though they were “inside the building,” they were treated no differentlyby their own employers than any other reporter.55 Mark Jurkowitzrecalled covering the scandals involving his colleagues at the BostonGlobe, Mike Barnicle and Patricia Smith: “You are hoping that your ownpublisher will talk to you, which sometimes he didn’t.… I got the samepress releases ….”56 Dan Fost’s experience covering the sale of the SanFrancisco Chronicle was similar.57
HOLDING THE NEWS MEDIA ACCOUNTABLE823
Still, these journalists conceded that their employers’ business
interests might influence the way they covered the problem of mediaconcentration. All regarded media concentration as dangerous for jour-nalism. Nonetheless, journalists from smaller publications who were notpart of a large media conglomerate, like the Village Voice, the BostonPhoenix, the former Brill’s Content, and the trade magazines AJR and CJR,seemed more eager to tackle the issue of ownership and its conse-quences.58 They also complained about the quality of media reporting inthe major news media: “[I]t is always the business implications—whatdoes this mean for stockholders . It‘s never, what is this going to do withthe diversity of opinion .”59 Meanwhile, media reporters from largenewspapers like the New York Times and the Boston Globe doubted thatmedia concentration would be a number-one topic for their audiences. Mark Jurkowitz said that since “the public has never really cared aboutthis issue,” writing about the stories that do not get covered was difficult:“You are trying to prove the negative.” He added: “My problem with itis, I just don’t see how you turn back the clock any more. Everything’sbeen deregulated.”60
In sum, the interviews indicate a high degree of peer orientation.
The media reporters and media critics considered the implications oftheir work on fellow journalists arguably more than they might whenthey covered politicians or businesspeople, with whom they did notshare a professional background. This does not necessarily imply thatthey are softer on media professionals. The harsh reactions of mediaprofessionals to Howard Kurtz, for example, indicate that he is hard-hitting. And the account the interviewees offered about how they stroveto cover their own employers as objectively as possible can be taken asproof that they seek to achieve impartiality even under difficult circum-stances. On the other hand, only a few interviewees were as frank asCynthia Cotts, who even admitted to writing “puff pieces.” And manyinterviewees conceded to producing “too little coverage of the commer-cial interests of our bosses and the subtle pressures that that imposes onjournalism,”61 because these journalists apparently assumed that thiswould interfere with the business interests of their employers. Addi-tional research will be needed to determine whether journalists apply thesame ethical standards to members of the Fourth Estate as they do torepresentatives of other social groups. Media Users and Media Professionals as Target Groups of Media Reporting and Media Criticism. Of course, the journalists from AJR and CJR focused on a professional audience. But many interviewees adhered to Bertrand’s thesis about a relatively passive general audience. The majority of both media critics and media reporters doubted the public’s interest in media reporting and media criticism, generally because they received little feedback from the popular audience, and a lot of feedback from insiders. Tim Jones, for example, was firmly convinced that the majority of his Chicago Tribune readers were “more interested in com- plaining about the media than reading about and understanding the media.”62
Few of the interviewees reported a high degree of feedback from
the general audience. One exception was Howard Kurtz: “Those who
824 JOURNALISM & MASS COMMUNICATION QUARTERLY
think that my primary readers are simply other journalists . totallymisconstrue how interested the general public is in media coverage andmedia criticism.”63 Mark Jurkowitz said he wanted to “train” the mediausers to skepticism towards the news media by “treating it like aconsumer beat in some ways.”64 Slate’sScott Shuger, whoalso reportedconsiderable feedback from lay users,described his goal: “Readersshouldask themselves: Whose interests are being served by this storytold in this way and whose are being left out?”65
The varying degrees of response from the general audience may
result from different ways of covering media issues. Several intervieweessaid they could attract larger audiences among media professionals withinsider stories about media celebrities. Sean Elder, former Salon mediacritic, gave an example: “Tina Brown: Just mentioning her name—always gets hits . [T]hings that are considered a little more fringe, like. supermarket tabloids . don’t get that much interest.”66 While fewinterviewees admitted explicitly that they pander to media profession-als, quite a few seemed to do it—and a glimpse onto MediaNews confirmsthat much “media gossip” is published in the news media every day. Mark Jurkowitz commented: “A lot of the media writing is insidebaseball. It’s about us, it’s for us, it’s gossip about our industry.”67 Headded: “The public is . interested. But if you only talk about your ownindustry gossip, they are not going to be interested.”68 Those who exploittheir peers’ craving for gossip without regard to the interest of thegeneral public usually get away with it, since media reporters and mediacritics seldom go after other media reporters and media critics.69 It couldeven be assumed that “media gossip” and “insider reporting” is encour-aged by some news media executives, if one considers Dan Fost’s accountof how his own column was created: “I think that is also part of the ideabehind having that type of a column in the paper, to be perfectly candid. By writing about the media, it is sort of a way to get other media readingyour paper. [I]t helps the newspaper’s reputation .”70
In sum, the majority of the interviewees received more feedback
from media professionals. This apparently tempts many mediareporters and media critics to pander to their professional audience byproviding insider news. Those who strove to choose topics relevant andunderstandable for a popular audience also reported substantial feed-back from average media consumers. It could be argued that mediareporters and media critics need to watch each other more closely tomake sure that their peer orientation does not result in more and more“inside baseball.”
Media Reporting and Media Criticism as a Media Accountability System. The central goals of media accountability systems, Bertrand said, are improving the news media’s service to the public, restoring the news media’s prestige among the public, and preserving its autonomy from state interference.71 Do the interviewees use “moral pressure”72 to further these goals? While most interviewees said they had an impact on peers, many said they doubted they have any influence on the media owners and media managers, or the media business in general.
Few interviewees were fully confident that they could help im-
prove the news media’s service to the public by holding the media
HOLDING THE NEWS MEDIA ACCOUNTABLE825
accountable. Those who believed they had influence were the best-known and most respected media reporters and media critics in theUnited States. For example, the New Yorker’s Ken Auletta said he wantedto “educate” corporate leaders to be more sensitive toward ethicalmatters.73 The Washington Post’sHoward Kurtz stated that the “essence”of his job was “to hold journalists and news organizations accountable.”He added that he had often been described by other editors and reportersas having had “a bit of an impact.” “A former editor of Newsweek oncewrote a memo to his staff on ethical matters, and included a line, saying:Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t want to see in Howard Kurtz’scolumn. … I have certainly seen instances where media outlets havechanged policies, at least in part, because of something that I havewritten, apologized for stories that turned out to be wrong, for ex-ample.”74
Meanwhile, many of the younger interviewees—even those who
were aware of their immediate impact on peers—considered their influ-ence on the improvement of the news media to be limited, and took anexplicitly humble approach. They wanted to be reporters, not “reform-ers,”75 and could only “sometimes” help serve readers.76 Sean Elder,from Salon, wanted to keep “people honest,” but added that he had “alittle more sympathy for the point of view of the editors, who’re justtrying to keep their jobs and sell something.”77 Eric Alterman, of TheNation, was convinced that “the media is large and so amorphous” that“they can absorb any criticism you make.” He said that there had neverbeen a more important time to be a media critic—but that he would notkid himself that it made a whole lot of difference.78 Geneva Overholsersaw too much media gossip instead of thoughtful media criticism. Therefore, she asked, “[W]hat difference does it make?”79
Only the two journalists from the trade magazines emphasized
that they also wanted to help restore the media’s prestige, at least amongcolleagues, by trying to “write about examples for things we’ve donewell,” as Alicia Shepard from the AJR put it.80 And Mike Hoyt from theCJR said that “not enough attention is given to the positive side of whatjournalists do.”81 Also, David Shaw of the Los Angeles Times, a veteran onthe media beat, was the only interviewee to mention the danger of stateinterference when he said that media reporting and media criticism was“better than nothing. We don’t have anything else. I certainly don’t wantany kind of government regulation.”82 Meanwhile, the professionalspectators of the news media interviewed here apparently did not regardmedia freedom as endangered, since almost none mentioned the dangerof state interference.
In sum, media reporters and media critics disagreed about the
purpose of media criticism and media reporting. A minority of journal-ists considered themselves “advocates” of the public and adopted a“missionary approach” to their work. Among this faction were the fewwell-known media reporters and media critics, who were confident thatthey could improve the news media’s service to the public by holdingjournalists accountable. The two journalists from the trade magazineswho saw themselves also as “ambassadors” of their profession wereanother exception. Many of the younger journalists emphasized that
826 JOURNALISM & MASS COMMUNICATION QUARTERLY
while they wanted to inform readers about the news media and teachthem to analyze the media, they did not want, nor did they thinkthemselves able, to change or even improve the news media in general,or restore their prestige.
Many long-time prejudices about a “conspiracy of silence” among
media professionals can no longer be considered valid. The journalists onthe still-young media beat generally strove to cover the news media, itsstructure, and even their own employers comprehensively and impar-tially. They said that as media reporters and media critics, they couldhave an impact on their peers who have lost jobs or were confronted withchanged newsroom policies, for example, after having been criticized bythem. This suggests that media reporters and media critics have aconsiderable potential as instruments of media self-regulation. Thispotential, however, is not yet fully exploited. Many media reporters andmedia critics still appeared to be more reluctant to go after fellowjournalists, as well as media managers and media owners, than afterpoliticians or businesspeople, for example. The apparent reason for theircautiousness is their dependency on other media professionals as sources,colleagues, and employers. Media professionals are also the most impor-tant target group for their writing, since many media reporters andmedia critics lamented a lack of feedback from the popular audience. And in fact, the expansion of the media beat went along with an increasein “media gossip” in the news media. Media reporters and media criticsmight need to be reminded at times that their prime duty should beservice to the public, and not their peers.
That said, media reporting and media criticism in the news media
have emerged from the media boom of the 1990s as a promising mediaaccountability system in the United States. Once the media beat is evenmore established in the news media, media reporters and media criticsmight also become more confident in their “watchdog roles.”
1. Claude-Jean Bertrand, Media Ethics & Accountability Systems (New
Brunswick, London: Transaction Publishers, 2000), 149.
2. Walter Lippmann, Liberty and the News (Reprint, New Brunswick,
London: Transaction Publishers, 1995), 68-69.
3. Mary M. Cronin and James B. McPherson, “Pronouncement and
Denunciations: An Analysis of State Press Association Ethics Codes fromthe 1920s,” Journalism Quarterly 72 (winter 1995): 890-901.
4. See Everette Dennis and William L. Rivers, Other Voices: The NewJournalism in America (New York, Evanston, London: Canfield Press,1974), 86-96; Norman Isaacs, Untended Gates. The Mismanaged Press (NewYork: Columbia University Press, 1986); National News Council, AnOpen Press (New York: 1977). The United States has often pioneered in theuse of media accountability systems—“probably because the media aremore commercialized there than anywhere else and because people fear
HOLDING THE NEWS MEDIA ACCOUNTABLE827
State regulation more than anywhere else,” according to Bertrand inMedia Ethics & Accountability Systems, 110.
5. Bertrand, Media Ethics & Accountability Systems, 108. 6. Bertrand, Media Ethics & Accountability Systems, 19. 7. Bertrand, Media Ethics & Accountability Systems, 4. 8. Bertrand, Media Ethics & Accountability Systems, 151. 9. Bertrand, Media Ethics & Accountability Systems, 107-108.
10. Bertrand, Media Ethics & Accountability Systems, 70, 116, 143. 11. Robert Leigh, ed., A Free and Responsible Press. A General Report onMass Communication: Newspapers, Radio, Motion Pictures, Magazines, andBooks by the Commission on Freedom of the Press (Reprint Chicago, IL, 1974),65-67, 94.
12. James Ledbetter, “Everyone’s a Critic,” Village Voice, 9-15 Septem-
13. It should be added that Bertrand’s criticism about a lack of media
criticism in the news media is still relevant for several European coun-tries. In a survey of media experts, academics, and professionals inseventeen European countries conducted in 1998, 88% of those whoresponded reported only “a few” and 12% a total lack of media reporterswho are “monitoring one or several sectors of the media and writingcritically about them” in their country, see Bertrand, Media Ethics &Accountability Systems, 132.
14. Interviews with Felicity Barringer (18 November 1999); Howard
Kurtz (22 November 1999); David Shaw (22 February 2000); CynthiaCotts (16 November 1999). Journalists and critics who comment onfiction and entertainment in the mass media, like movie critics, bookcritics, and critics of entertainment television or popular music, as wellas TV critics, are not discussed in this article.
15. Not all of the new projects proved successful: The “media con-
sumers’ magazine” Brill’s Content was started in 1998 and stopped in2001 because the magazine could never attract the 300,000 readers itneeded to survive. The media website www.inside.com—which wasconceived and edited by prominent journalists, hoping to lure 100,000registered users—counted no more than 1,200 users after more than ayear even in the media hey-days of 2000. See Ken Auletta, “Inside Out,”The New Yorker, 11 June 2001.
16. James Boylan, “A Thousand Voices Bloom,” Columbia JournalismReview, March/April 2000, 34-35.
17. Surveys like the ASNE study “So Many Choices, So Little Time”
(1997) or the Pew Research Center’s study “Striking the Balance: Audi-ence Interests, Business Pressures and Journalists’ Values” (1999) re-ported a decline in news media credibility among the public.
18. See Dan Kennedy, “Get Me Rewrite,” Boston Phoenix, 22 May 1998. 19. David Shaw, “Crossing the Line (Special Report),” Los AngelesTimes Magazine, 20 December 1999.
20. See, for example, Dan Barry, David Barstow, Jonathan D. Glater,
Adam Liptab, and Jacques Steinberg, “Correcting The Record; TimesReporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception,” New YorkTimes, 11 May 2003.
21. Jonathan Yardley, “When Reporters Become the Story,” Washing-828 JOURNALISM & MASS COMMUNICATION QUARTERLY
22. See for an overview on the history of media journalism Lee Brown,
The Reluctant Reformation. On Criticizing the Press in America (New York:McKay, 1974); Marion Tuttle Marzolf, Civilizing Voices. American PressCriticism 1880–1950 (New York, London: Longman, 1991). See also DavidM. Rubin, “Liebling and Friends: Trends in American Press Criticism,1859–1963” (paper presented at annual conference of AEJMC, Ottawa,1975); a summary can be found in Herbert Altschull, From Milton toMcLuhan: The Ideas Behind American Journalism (New York, London:Longman, 1990). Essays on single press critics and the history of presscriticism include William L. Rivers, “William Cowper Brann And His‘Iconoclast’,” Journalism Quarterly 36 (fall 1958): 433-38; Lina WeinerHausmann, “Criticism of the Press in U.S. Periodicals 1900–1939: AnAnnotated Bibliography,” Journalism Monographs 4 (1967); Judson Grenier,“Upton Sinclair and the Press: The Brass Check Reconsidered,” Journal-ism Quarterly 49 (fall 1972): 427-36; Edmund M. Midura, “A. J. Liebling:The Wayward Pressman as Critic,” Journalism Monographs (1974); Marga-ret A.Blanchard, “The Hutchins Commission, The Press and the Respon-sibility Concept,” Journalism Monographs 49 (1977); Margaret A. Blanchard,“Press Criticism and National Reform Movements: The Progressive Eraand the New Deal,” Journalism History 5 (2/1978): 33-37, 54-55; DonnaDickerson, “William Cowper Brann: Nineteenth Century Press Critic,”Journalism History 5 (2/1978): 42-45; Pamela Brown, “George Seldes andthe Winter Soldier Brigade: The Press Criticism of In Fact, 1940–1950,”American Journalism 6 (2/1989): 85-102; Patrick Daley, “George Seldes:Propaganda Analyst, Press Gadfly,” American Journalism 13 (1/1996): 5-20.
23. See, for example, Barbie Zelizer, “CNN, the Gulf War, and Jour-
nalistic Practice,” Journal of Communication 42 (1/1992): 66-81; Jack Lule,“The Philadelphia Inquirer Norplant Editorial,” Critical Studies in MassCommunication 9 (1992): 91-109; Thomas Johnson and Timothy Boudreau,“Turning the Spotlight Inward: How the Leading News OrganizationsCovered the Media in the 1992 Presidential Election,” Journalism Quar-terly 73 (autumn 1996): 657-71; Michael Robinson, “Fifty Years in theDoghouse: Blaming the Press is Nothing New,” Washington JournalismReview (March 1986): 44-45.
24. Christopher Pieper and Karen Hughes: Media-on-Media. The Fram-ing of the Time-Warner/Turner-CNN Merger. Graduate School of Journal-ism, University of Texas at Austin, 1997.
25. Joseph Turow, “Hidden Conflicts and Journalistic Norms: The
Case of Self-Coverage,” Journal of Communications 44 (spring 1994): 29-46.
26. Michael Robinson, “Media, Rate Thyselves,” Washington Journal-ism Review (December 1983): 31-33.
27. Kristie B. Northington, “Media Criticism as Professional Self-
Regulation: A Study of United States Journalism Reviews” (Ph.D. diss.,Indiana University, 1993). See also Hugh M. Culbertson and LujuanThompson, “A Comparison of The Quill and Columbia JournalismReview Relative to Three Critical Perspectives,” Mass Comm Review(winter/spring 1984): 12-21; Lianne Fridriksson, “A Content Analysis ofthe Darts and Laurel Column in Columbia Journalism Review,” MassHOLDING THE NEWS MEDIA ACCOUNTABLE829 Comm Review (fall 1985): 2-7.
28. The Freedom Forum Media Studies Journal’s Spring 1995 special
issue on media journalism and media criticism included a study based ona group of media managers that sought to identify the most influentialmedia critics and TV critics of the mid-nineties. Those leading media andTV critics were Jonathan Alter from Newsweek; Ken Auletta from The NewYorker; Jeff Greenfield of ABC; Jon Katz, formerly Wired; Howard Kurtzand Tom Shales from the Washington Post; David Shaw and HowardRosenberg from the Los Angeles Times; and the notorious talk show hostRush Limbaugh. The critics were interviewed; however, the results of theinterviews were presented without putting individual statements in abroader perspective. See Robert W. Snyder, Jennifer Kelley, and DirkSmillie, “Critics with Clout—Nine Who Matter,” Freedom Forum MediaStudies Journal (spring 1995): 1-18.
29. Barbara Hartung, Alfred JaCoby, and David Dozier, “Readers’
Perceptions of Purpose of Newspaper Ombudsman Program,” Journal-ism Quarterly 65 (winter 1988): 914-19; James S. Ettema and Theodore L. Glasser, “Public Accountability or Public Relations? Newspaper Om-budsmen Define Their Role,” Journalism Quarterly 74 (spring 1997): 3-12,40; Kate McKenna, “The Loneliest Job in the Newsroom,” AmericanJournalism Review (March 1993): 41-44; David Pritchard, “The Impact ofNewspaper Ombudsmen on Journalists’ Attitudes,” Journalism Quar-terly 70 (spring 1993): 77-86.
30. www.poynter.org/medianews. However, some of the “media
people” recur among the “alternative weeklies,” while an importantvoice like Ken Auletta from the New Yorker is missing in the list. The sitealso links to 30 “TV/Radio columnists” and 35 institutions (“generalmedia”), from the CJR to the Organization of Newspaper Ombudsmen.
31. David H. Weaver and G. Cleveland Wilhoit, The American Journal-ist in the 1990s: U.S. News People at the End of An Era (Mahwah, NJ:Erlbaum, 1996), 16-25. Weaver and Wilhoit have provided a list ofnewspapers and magazines most frequently read by journalists. Allnewspapers and magazines from this list with a media beat were in-cluded in the sample because they can be assumed to have a wide reachamong fellow journalists.
32. Five media journalists had to cancel meetings shortly before the
scheduled date and were therefore available for a telephone interview(David Shaw, Jim Romenesko), or an E-mail interview (Max Frankel, TimJones, Norman Solomon).
33. Felicity Barringer, New York Times (Business Section); Tim Jones,
Chicago Tribune; Mark Jurkowitz, Boston Globe; Howard Kurtz, Washing-ton Post; David Shaw, Los Angeles Times; Alicia Shepard, American Journal-ism Review. Mike Hoyt, Columbia Journalism Review; Jim Romenesko,MediaNews; and Lesley Elizabeth Stevens, Brill‘s Content, are editors, butagree to the “neutral” job description of the “media reporters.”
34. Interview with Felicity Barringer, 18 November 1999. 35. Eric Alterman, The Nation; Ken Auletta, The New Yorker; Cynthia
Cotts, Village Voice; Sean Elder, Salon; Dan Fost, San Francisco Chronicle;Max Frankel, New York Times; Dan Kennedy, Boston Phoenix; John Leo,U.S. News & World Report; Geneva Overholser, associated with the
830 JOURNALISM & MASS COMMUNICATION QUARTERLYWashington Post; Scott Shuger, Slate; Norman Solomon, FAIR!; MichaelWolff, New York Magazine.
36. Interview with Eric Alterman, 16 November 1999. 37. Interview with Michael Wolff, 23 November 1999. 38. Interview with Ken Auletta, 16 November 1999. 39. Interview with Mark Jurkowitz, 3 December 1999. 40. The exceptions are Geneva Overholser and John Leo, who also
comment on politics and social issues.
41. The four exceptions are the two journalists from CJR and AJR; Jim
Romensko, who works for the Poynter Foundation; and Norman Solomon,who works for the media-critical organization FAIR!, where he targets alay audience with a high interest in media issues.
42. Interview with Howard Kurtz, 22 November 1999. 43. Interview with Dan Fost, 29 November 1999. 44. Interview with Felicity Barringer, 18 November 1999. 45. Interview with Dan Kennedy, 24 November 1999. 46. Interview with Cynthia Cotts, 16 November 1999. 47. Interview with Mark Jurkowitz, 3 December 1999. 48. Interview with Cynthia Cotts, 16 November 1999. 49. Interview with David Shaw, 22 February 2000. 50. Interview with Ken Auletta, 16 November 1999. 51. Interview with Mark Jurkowitz, 3 December 1999. 52. Interview with Felicity Barringer, 18 November 1999. 53. Interview with Howard Kurtz, 22 November 1999. 54. Interview with David Shaw, 22 February 2000. 55. Interview with Mark Jurkowitz, 3 December 1999. 56. Interview with Mark Jurkowitz, 3 December 1999. 57. Interview with Dan Fost, 29 November 1999. 58. See for example interview with Mike Hoyt, 16 November 1999. 59. Interview with Dan Kennedy, 24 November 1999. 60. Interview with Mark Jurkowitz, 3 December 1999. 61. Interview with Ken Auletta, 16 November 1999. 62. Interview with Tim Jones, 1 January 2000. 63. Interview with Howard Kurtz, 22 November 1999. 64. Interview with Mark Jurkowitz, 3 December 1999. 65. Interview with Scott Shuger, 31 November 1999. 66. Interview with Sean Elder, 17 November 1999. 67. Interview with Mark Jurkowitz, 3 December 1999. 68. Interview with Mark Jurkowitz, 3 December 1999. 69. The only media writer who has become an object of media
criticism himself is Howard Kurtz, the best-known media reporter in theUnited States, and his colleagues are aware of possible consequences:“Kurtz . is powerful and may write about us some day.” (Mickey Kaus,“Phony Pose, ‘Oh, We Disclose’, Hurts Kaiser, Kurtz Adviser!”www.kausfiles.com, 18 June 2000) See also Franklin Foer, “The WaywardCritic. Howard Kurtz and the Decline of Media C
riticism,” The New Republic, 15 May 2000; Steven Brill, “Rewind:
Conflicted Out,” Brill’s Content, March 1999.
70. Interview with Dan Fost, 29 November 1999. 71. Bertrand, Media Ethics & Accountability Systems, 151. HOLDING THE NEWS MEDIA ACCOUNTABLE831
72. Bertrand, Media Ethics & Accountability Systems, 107. 73. Interview with Ken Auletta, 16 November 1999. 74. Interview with Howard Kurtz, 22 November 1999. 75. Interview with Lesley Elizabeth Stevens, 17 November 1999. 76. Interview with Dan Fost, 29 November 1999. 77. Interview with Sean Elder, 17 November 1999. 78. Interview with Eric Alterman, 16 November 1999. 79. Interview with Geneva Overholser, 19 November 1999. 80. Interview with Alicia Shepard, 22 November 1999. 81. Interview with Mike Hoyt, 16 November 1999. 82. Interview with David Shaw, 22 February 2000. 832 JOURNALISM & MASS COMMUNICATION QUARTERLY
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