As the journalist Walter Lippmann noted nearly a century ago, democracy falters “if there is no steady supply of trustworthy and relevant news.” Today’s journalists are not providing it. Too often, reporters give equal weight to facts and biased opinion, stir up small controversies, and substitute infotainment for real news. Even when they get the facts rights, they often misjudge the context in which they belong. Information is the lifeblood of a healthy democracy. Public opinion and debate suffer when citizens are misinformed about current affairs, as is increasingly the case. Though the failures of today’s communication system cannot be blamed solely on the news media, they are part of the problem, and the best hope for something better.
Patterson proposes “knowledge-based journalism” as a corrective. Unless journalists are more deeply informed about the subjects they cover, they will continue to misinterpret them and to be vulnerable to manipulation by their sources. In this book, derived from a multi-year initiative of the Carnegie Corporation and the Knight Foundation, Patterson calls for nothing less than a major overhaul of journalism practice and education. The book speaks not only to journalists but to all who are concerned about the integrity of the information on which America’s democracy depends.
About the author
Thomas E. Patterson is Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press and teaches at the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. His book The Vanishing Voter looks at the causes and consequences of electoral participation. His earlier book on the media’s political role, Out of Order, received the American Political Science Association’s Graber Award as the best book of the decade in political communication. His first book, The Unseeing Eye, was named by the American Association for Public Opinion Research as one of the fifty most influential books on public opinion in the past half century. His research has been funded by the Ford, Markle, Smith Richardson, Pew, Knight, Carnegie, and National Science foundations.
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