Community journalism then and now

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Community journalism then and now a comparison of community-minded broadcasters of the 1960s and 1990s
Glover, Joseph L
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2 v. (viii, 487 leaves) : ; 29 cm.


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Civil rights ( jstor )
Communitarianism ( jstor )
Counties ( jstor )
Journalism ( jstor )
News content ( jstor )
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Dissertations, Academic -- Mass Communication -- UF ( lcsh )
Mass Communication thesis, Ph. D ( lcsh )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Florida, 2000.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 464-486).
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by Joseph L. Glover.

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Full Text








I am grateful to the members of my committee--F. Leslie

Smith, Bernell E. Tripp, David H. Ostroff, John W. Wright,

and Thomas P. Auxter--for their suggestions and insights.

I am particularly grateful to my chairman, F. Leslie Smith,

for the many hours he spent critiquing this work and for

introducing me to the pleasures of the rewrite. I am

grateful to Bernell Tripp for introducing me to the

fascinating world of history and for trying to teach me how

it is done. I am also grateful to Tom Auxter for showing

me a new way to look at the ethics of communication.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS...... ............................. ... ii

ABSTRACT ................................................. vii


1 INTRODUCTION ..................... ............. 1

Background ............... ...................... 2
Three Broadcast Community Journalists ..........13
Joe Brechner ........................... .......... 14
Norm Davis .................... ................ 16
Ralph Renick .................................... 19
Problem, Purpose, Research Questions,
Methodology, Significance, Scope and
Limitations ................................20
Problem ............................................. 21
Purpose .............. .... .....................22
Research Questions ..............................22
Significance ................................... .23
Methodology ....................................... 24
Scope and Limitations ...........................28

2 LITERATURE REVIEW ...............................32

Community Journalism ...........................32
Beyond a Proper Literature Review: Partisan
Viewpoints ................................... 57
Social Responsibility Theory ...................65
Works on Brechner, Davis, and Renick ...........65

COMMUNITY JOURNALISM ......................74

The Commission Is Formed .......................75
Press Reaction ..................................... 79
Commission Goals ................................83

Recommendations to Government ................. 84
Recommendations to the Press ................... 87
Recommendations to the Public ................. 88
Citizens' Commission ........................... 90
Effects of the Report .......................... 92

HUTCHINS IN THE NINETIES ................. 95

Selfless or Self-Serving? ...................... 96
The Community Journalism Projects Sponsored by
the Pew Center for Civic Journalism ....... 99
Charlotte ...................................... 104
Madison ........................ ................ 105
Tallahassee ................ .................. 107
Boston ......................................... 109
Seattle .................. ..................... 111
Columbus ....................................... 112
New Orleans .................................... 114


6 STATE OF THE TV EDITORIAL IN THE 1960S ......... 130

Impact of Regulations .......................... 131
Timid Editorialists ............................ 137
Network Guidance ............................... 143
Local Stations ................................. 145

20TH CENTURY ............................... 155

The 1960s in America ...........................156
Civil Rights Background in Florida .............161
Imported Attitudes .............................165
The Ku Klux Klan in Florida .................... 169
A Statewide View ...............................172
St. Augustine .................................. 173
Tampa .......................................... 176
Orlando ........................................ 180
Miami ...........................................186
History of Consolidation Attempts in
Jacksonville ..............................187

EDITORIALIST ..............................197

The Nation's First Nightly TV Editorials ....... 198
The Renick Editorials ..........................204
The Crusades ................................... 211
The "B-Girl" Editorials .....................213
The Restaurant Crusade ......................216
The Crime Crusade ...........................223
Renick and Civil Rights ........................230
Jacksonville ................................233
St. Augustine ...............................236
New Orleans .................................243
Los Angeles .................................244
Miami .......................................246


The Editorials Begin ...........................267
Davis Background ...............................268
The Davis Editorial Campaign .................. 273
Other Issues Being Covered by the Press in
the Mid-Sixties ...........................277
The WJXT School Editorials .....................281
City and County Services Deteriorate ...........291
The WJXT-TV Investigations .....................294
The Grand Jury ................................. 307
The Indictments ................................308
Corn Patch Camp ................................309
What The People Involved Say About WJXT' s Role .314
What Others Have Said About WJXT' s Role ........321

WFTV-TV ...................................326

Brechner' s Motivations .........................329
The Brechner Family Moves to Orlando ........... 332
Editorial Themes ...............................337
Examples of Editorials Using Brechner' s
Four Themes ...............................341
It Could Happen Here ........................ 341
Praise ......................................342
Patriotism ..................................346
It's Good Business ..........................353
A Voice For Minorities ......................... 355

Despair ........................................ 357
Beyond Editorials ..............................358

11 CONCLUSION AND ANALYSIS ........................368

Summary ........................................... 368
Brechner ....................................371
Davis .......................................374
Renick ...................................... 375
Conclusions ....................................... 376
What is Community Journalism? ...............377
Brechner, Davis, and Renick: Real Community
Journalists? ..............................378
Worthy of Imitation? ........................ 380
Community Journalists of the 1990s ..........380
Discussion ..................................... 382
Leading the Way .............................387
Friends in the Front Office .................389
Motivation is Primary .......................391
Suggestions for Further Research ...............392






BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ..................................... 487

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Joseph L. Glover

August 2000

Chairman: F. Leslie Smith
Major Department: Mass Communication

This dissertation is a historical study of three

broadcast editorialists working in Florida during the

tumultuous 1960s. The three editorialists were Joe

Brechner, owner and general manager of WFTV-TV in Orlando;

Norm Davis, editorial director of WJXT-TV in Jacksonville;

and Ralph Renick, news and editorial director of WTVJ-TV in

Miami. The works of Brechner and Davis examined in this

study revolve around single editorial campaigns. In the

case of Brechner, the topic was civil rights. Davis

focused on governmental corruption and inefficiency.

Renick, who editorialized first and for the longest period

of time, conducted several editorial campaigns. His work

on governmental corruption, crime, restaurant sanitation,

and civil rights are examined herein.

The three editorialists are compared to members of the

press in the 1990s who called themselves "community

journalists." The following questions are asked: (1) What

is community journalism? (2) Were the three editorialists

who are the focus of this dissertation community

journalists? (3) Should modern journalists consider

Brechner, Davis, and Renick journalists to be emulated?

In order to avoid either present-mindedness or past-

mindedness, particular attention is paid to context. The

regulatory climate for 1960s broadcasters who chose to

editorialize is examined. The events of the decade are a

major part of the context. It was those events from which

the editorialists chose their topics. Lastly, motivation

of editorialists and journalists studied for this work is

examined. The touchstone for motivation is existential

communitarianism, defined for this study as "concerned

primarily with community, but drawing from the principles

of existentialism to include concern for individuals within

the community as well as concern for personal

responsibility." It is within that framework that the

efforts of the subjects of this research are measured.



This dissertation is a historical study of three

broadcast editorialists, working in Florida during the

tumultuous 1960s. The three editorialists were Joe Brechner,

owner and general manager of WFTV-TV in Orlando; Norm Davis,

editorial director of WJXT-TV in Jacksonville; and Ralph

Renick, news and editorial director of WTVJ-TV in Miami. The

works of Brechner and Davis examined in this study revolve

around single editorial campaigns. In the case of Brechner,

the topic was civil rights. Davis focused on governmental

corruption and inefficiency. Renick, who editorialized first

and for the longest period of time, conducted several

editorial campaigns. His work on governmental corruption,

crime, restaurant sanitation, and civil rights is examined


The three editorialists are compared to members of the

press in the 1990s who called themselves "community


This chapter introduces the reader to the three

editorialists, to the community journalism against which they

are measured, and to the problems that motivated 1990s

members of the press to begin calling themselves "community



Since the Hutchins Commission met in the mid-1940s and

completed A Free and Responsible Press,' some members of the

United States press have been trying to prove that they can

be both free and responsible.2 According to many press

critics, the attempt has been a dismal failure. A recent

Newseum survey of public perception of the press reveals some

discouraging, although not surprising, news for journalists.3

The 1999 survey frequently referred to the results of a

similar 1997 survey and found that "the news media are in

deep trouble."4 The 1997 survey found:

1 Commission on Freedom of the Press, A Free and Responsible
Press: A General Report on Mass Communication: Newspapers,
Radio, Motion Pictures, Magazines, and Books (Chicago: The
University of Chicago Press (1947), 4.

2 James Fallows, Breaking the News (New York: Pantheon Books,

3 "State of the First Amendment: A survey of public
attitudes," a Freedom Forum survey, sponsored by the First
Amendment Center at Vanderbilt University, 1999.

4 Ibid.

Although most people trust most or all of what
ministers, priests, rabbis and doctors say, only 53%
place similar trust in their local TV anchors. Even
fewer trust what network TV anchors say and just under a
third trust newspaper reporters.
Ethically, people see journalists not as the equals of
teachers, doctors and priests, but as being among those
with agendas to advance--politicians, lawyers and
corporate officials.
Special interests are pulling strings in newsrooms,
most Americans believe. They think profit motives,
politicians, media owners, big business and advertisers
influence the way news is reported and presented.
Surprisingly, what bothers people most about
journalists is not that they favor a "liberal point of
view," but that journalists are insensitive to people's
pain when covering disasters and accidents. Most people
also are more strongly concerned about journalists
spending too much time on the personal lives of public
officials, paying too little attention to issues of
concern to young people, using unidentified sources and
offering their own opinions than they are about liberal
A majority of the Americans surveyed (64%) also say a
major problem with news is that it is too sensational.5

The 1999 survey, according to the Freedom Forum,

indicated public trust in the media was diminishing even

further. Respondents expressed a 15-percent increase in the

belief that the press has too much freedom. More respondents

said newspapers should not be able to publish freely without

5 Quoted from the 1997 Newseum Survey by the Roper Center for
Public Opinion Research, The Freedom Forum Media Studies
Center and the Newseum on the Freedom Forum home page, The Roper Center
administered the questionnaire to 1,500 American adults. The
sampling error is 2.5 percent at the 95 percent confidence

government approval, that they should not be allowed to

endorse or criticize political candidates, that journalists

should not be able to use hidden cameras for newsgathering,

and should not be able to publish government secrets.6

The number of people who felt the press had too much

freedom also grew in 1999. The number who felt the press

should be able to keep sources confidential fell, and Table 1

shows that "the bad news just keeps coming."

The Freedom Forum reports went on to say:

These findings indicate that the news media are in
deep trouble with the American public. A variety of
studies, surveys, and focus groups document a real
resentment of the press and its practices among
Americans, who characterize the news media as arrogant,
inaccurate, superficial, sensational, biased and bent.
Worse, they apparently believe that the press is part of
the problem, rather than part of the solution.
In a study conducted earlier this year by the Pew
Research Center for The People & The Press, 32% of those
surveyed said they thought the media were declining in
influence, compared to 17% in 1985. The number of those
saying the media protects democracy dropped from 54% in

6 The 1999 Freedom Forum Survey by the Center for Survey
Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut, The
Freedom Forum Media Studies Center and the Newseum. Found
The survey results are based on telephone interviews by the
Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University
of Connecticut with 1,001 adults, ages eighteen or older,
conducted 26 February to 24 March 1999. Margin of error is
plus or minus 3 percent with a 95 percent confidence

Table 1. Results of 1999 Freedom Forum Survey.

Even though the U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of the
press, government has placed some restrictions on it.
Overall, do you think the press in America has too much
freedom to do what it wants, too little freedom to do what it
wants, or is the amount of freedom the press has about right?

Too much freedom
Too little freedom
About right



Newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without
government approval of a story.

1997 1999
Strongly agree 56% 38%
Mildly agree 24% 27%
Mildly disagree 11% 14%
Strongly disagree 6% 18%
DK/Ref 3% 3%

Journalists should be allowed to keep a news source

1997 1999
Strongly agree 58% 48%
Mildly agree 27% 31%
Mildly disagree 6% 10%
Strongly disagree 6% 9%
DK/Ref 2% 3%

Broadcasters should be allowed to televise courtroom trials.

1997 1999
Strongly agree 28% 34%
Mildly agree 23% 33%
Mildly disagree 19% 13%
Strongly disagree 25% 17%
DK/Ref 4% 3%

Newspapers should be allowed to endorse or criticize
political candidates.

1997 1999
Strongly agree 43% 35%
Mildly agree 26% 28%
Mildly disagree 11% 14%
Strongly disagree 18% 22%
DK/Ref 2% 2%

Table 1--Continued.

The news media should be allowed to report government secrets
that have come to journalists' attention.


Strongly agree
Mildly agree
Mildly disagree
Strongly disagree


Television networks should be allowed to project winners of
an election while people are still voting.

1997 1999
Strongly agree 15% 11%
Mildly agree 16% 18%
Mildly disagree 17% 19%
Strongly disagree 51% 51%
DK/Ref 1% 1%

High school students should be allowed to report
controversial issues in their student newspapers without
approval of school authorities.

1997 1999
Strongly agree 24% 19%
Mildly agree 21% 18%
Mildly disagree 23% 27%
Strongly disagree 29% 33%
DK/Ref 3% 3%

Journalists should be allowed to use hidden cameras in their

1997 1999
Strongly agree 13% 9%
Mildly agree 18% 18%
Mildly disagree 20% 18%
Strongly disagree 45% 54%
DK/Ref 3% 3%

Broadcasters should be allowed to televise the proceedings of
the U.S. Supreme Court.

Strongly agree 44%
Mildly agree 29%
Mildly disagree 11%
Strongly disagree 12%
DK/Ref 3%

Table 1--Continued.

Journalists should be allowed to investigate the private
lives of public figures.

Strongly agree 17%
Mildly agree 21%
Mildly disagree 18%
Strongly disagree 42%
DK/Ref 1%

Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: Any
group that wants should be allowed to hold a rally for a
cause or issue even if it may be offensive to others in the

1997 1999
Strongly agree 38% 30%
Mildly agree 34% 32%
Mildly disagree 10% 16%
Strongly disagree 15% 20%
DK/Ref 3% 3%

Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: The
government should regulate what appears on television.

Strongly agree 20%
Mildly agree 25%
Mildly disagree 21%
Strongly disagree 32%
DK/Ref 2%

1985 to 45%. Conversely, 38% said that the media hurt
democracy; only 23% said that in 1985.7

These complaints sound quite similar to the complaints

put forward by the Hutchins Commission in 1947, a fact noted

in the Freedom Forum report. The commission, albeit

unintentionally, laid the foundation for a 1990s journalism

phenomenon that was promoted as the road to salvation for an

ailing press. It is called "community journalism," "civic

journalism," "communitarian journalism," public journalism,"

"solutions journalism" and sometimes "conversations

journalism."8 The terms are frequently used interchangeably

by journalists and will be used interchangeably here,

although "community journalism" will be the preferred and

most often used term. That phenomenon, however, is a siren

song that may lead journalism in the opposite direction.

Defining the phenomenon is also difficult. There are

many definitions of community journalism. Davis Merritt, now

senior editor at the Wichita Eagle, defines it as "a

pragmatic recognition that people flooded with contextless,

7 Ibid.

8 As of May 2000 there was still a discussion underway about
drawing fine distinctions between these terms. At the 1998
conference on public journalism at the University of South
Carolina attendees agreed to use the terms interchangeably,
at least for the length of the conference, to avoid further
confusing the issue. This dissertation follows that example.

fragmentary, episodic, value-neutral information can't make

effective work of their decision-making."9 New York

University journalism professor Jay Rosen writes,

"Traditional journalism worries about remaining properly

detached. Public journalism worries about becoming properly

attached. So: public journalism becomes the undeveloped art

of attachment to the communities in which journalists do

their work."'0

Ed Lambeth, a professor of journalism at the University

of Missouri-Columbia, says there are several steps in doing

public journalism. Journalists must:

Examine alternative ways to frame stories on important
community issues.
Choose frames that stand the best chance to stimulate
citizen deliberation and build public understanding of
Listen systematically to the stories and ideas of
citizens even while protecting [press] freedom to
choose what to cover.
Take the initiative to report on major public problems
in a way that advances public knowledge of possible
solutions and the values served by alternative courses
of action.
Pay continuing and systematic attention to how well and
how credibly [the press] is communicating with the

9 Edmund B. Lambeth, Philip E. Mayer, and Esther Thorsen,
Assessing Public Journalism (Columbia: University of Missouri
Press, 1998), 90.

10 Ibid., 90.

11 Ibid., 17.

Another proponent of community journalism is Jennie

Buckner. Buckner is the editor of the Charlotte Observer and

sees public journalism as utilitarian: "When writing about

public life, we try to provide readers with the information

they need to function as citizens."12 Billy Winn of the

Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Enquirer defines the practice in terms

closer to classical communitarianism13 when he says, "You must

risk some of yourself; you must get into the boat with the


This communitarian attitude leads to a definition that

grows out of the present study and becomes evident in the

work of the three broadcasters around whom this research

revolves. It is a definition that most accurately describes

what the three editorialists were presenting to 1960s

television audiences. A community journalist is, quite

12 Ibid., 225.

13 Communitarianism is described as "the thesis that the
community, rather than the individual, the state, the nation,
or any other entity, is and should be at the center of our
analysis and our value system" in Ted Honderich, ed., The
Oxford Companion to Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1995), 143.

14 Billy Winn, Lecture at University of Florida, Spring 1996.

simply, someone who is willing to put the interests of

community above one's own interests.

This definition is not what most community journalists

espouse. Normally, community journalism is an attempt to

make the journalist part of the community and, therefore, a

beneficiary of the public journalism project. That is not

what Ralph Renick, Joe Brechner, and Norm Davis intended.

They intended one thing--that their editorials would

contribute to the social health of their communities. In

each case, it was communitarianism with an important

additional factor--an element of existentialism.15 Each of

these editorialists was intent on making the most of his

talents to enrich the lives of his community and the

individuals in those communities rather than surrendering to

the "tyranny of the majority" or waiting for someone else to

right the wrongs they saw. In this way, they were unlike

15 Defined in Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary as
"A chiefly 20th Century philosophy that is centered upon the
analysis of existence specif. of individual human beings,
that regards human existence as not exhaustively describable
or understandable in idealistic or scientific terms, and that
stresses the freedom and responsibility of the individual,
the irreducible uniqueness of an ethical or religious
situation, and usu. the isolation and subjective experiences
(as of anxiety, guilt, dread, anguish) of an individual
therein." (Springfield, MA: G & C. Merriam Company, 1976),

communitarians who sacrifice individualism and individual

rights for the sake of community.16 They were existential-

communitarians, a seemingly self-contradictory term, but an

accurate description. This study is concerned with

determining whether they were community journalists before

community journalism became a journalism movement.

The Hutchins Commission, which will be examined in

chapter 3 of this study, foreshadowed some of the ideas

embodied in community journalism. The commission' s findings

reveal that there were many of the same concerns about the

press in the 1940s as there were fifty years later. Chapter 4

will outline current attempts to improve public perception of

press practices and practitioners. It will also be revealed

that those attempts, through community journalism, are

misguided and sometimes disingenuous.

In addition, this study will show that what is sometimes

referred to as "old-fashioned journalism in new clothes"17 is,

in fact, the way to reverse the erosion of public trust in

journalism and, in particular, television journalism. The

16 Ralph D. Barney, "Community Journalism: Good Intentions,
Questionable Practice," Journal of Mass Media Ethics 11, 3
(1996): 140-151.

1M. Gordon, "Civic Journalism: Involving the Public," The
Seattle Times, 17 April 1996, B5.

present chapter will briefly introduce three 1960s

broadcasters who practiced community journalism long before

it had acquired the name and, most important, practiced

community journalism in a manner classical communitarians

would consider appropriate. The work of these three

broadcasters will be the primary focus of this dissertation.

Much of the background for these early chapters is based

on the work of newspaper journalists because it is the

newspapers that have most actively promoted community

journalism. As is noted below, newspaper journalists

frequently involve broadcasters in their projects, usually as

tag-alongs using, and being used by, their print partners.

Three Broadcast Community Journalists

There are many different views of community journalism

and communitarianism. Louis Hodges of Washington and Lee

University frequently writes on issues of journalism ethics.

It is Hodges' view of communitarianism as a means of

enhancing individual liberty that most closely fits the

approach taken by the three editorialists who are the subject

of this study. They were all most concerned about their

communities but did not allow themselves to be swallowed by

the communitarian tendency to allow the group to become more

important than the individuals for which it was established.'8

All three broadcasters used editorials to accomplish their

purposes. Unlike many 1990s community journalists, all three

considered ratings and income secondary to operating in the

best interests of the individuals who made up their


Because all three felt it was their duty to better their

communities, all three can be considered existential

communitarians. "Existential communitarianism" is a term

that must be defined for complete understanding of the

discussion that follows. So it will be possible to refer

back to what is meant by existential communitarianism, the

definition, which will be based upon the preceding

description of the actions of Brechner, Davis, and Renick,

will be established for the rest of this dissertation as

follows: Concerned primarily with community, but drawing from

the principles of existentialism to include concern for

individuals within the community as well as concern for

personal responsibility.

Joe Brechner

Joe Brechner was principal owner and manager of Channel

9 in Orlando, first as WLOF-TV, then as WFTV-TV from 1958 to

18 Barney, "Community Journalism," 145.

1984. When he arrived in Orlando in 1953 to acquire part

ownership in radio station WLOF-AM, he had already

established a reputation for speaking out for causes he

thought in the interests of the community.'9

Brechner had laid the groundwork for his active part in

community affairs at WGAY radio in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Brechner and John Kluge founded WGAY-AM-FM when they were

released from the U.S. Army following World War II. Money

from the sale of WGAY financed Brechner' s move into the

Orlando broadcasting market. Although Kluge owned a portion

of the Orlando operation, he was moving in other directions,

and it was Brechner who would build the Orlando television

station, using it as a platform for his brand of community

journalism. Brechner' s most frequently visited editorial

topic was civil rights. At a time when there were few

integrated facilities and when there was a strong Ku Klux

Klan presence in Orlando, a city with many of the

characteristics of other southern cities in the 1960s,

Brechner was not only hiring African-Americans to work at his

19 Joe Glover, "Joe Brechner's Castle in the Air The WGAY
Years: 1946-47," 2000. Unpublished paper presented at the
2000 Broadcast Education Association annual conference in Las
Vegas, Nevada.

station, he was campaigning for equal rights for all


Norm Davis

On 8 August 1967, the voters of Jacksonville and Duval

County, Florida, went to the polls to decide what form of

government they wanted. The choice was simple. Would they

continue to have what critics of the area' s political system

considered a redundant, wasteful, corrupt form of government

with one group of elected and appointed officials for

Jacksonville and another for Duval County, or would they

clean house by consolidating their governments? They had

been subjected to a vigorous, sometimes bitter, campaign with

strong arguments on both sides. Many office holders and

their cronies who had benefited under the existing system

pulled out all the stops in their attempts to maintain the

status quo. They tried to convince black voters that

consolidation was an attempt to keep power out of the hands

of the African-American community.21 They argued directly to

the African-American community that whites from the suburbs

20 Joe Glover, "Joe Brechner's Strategy for Orlando, Florida:
The 1960s Civil Rights Editorials of WFTV-TV," 1998.
Unpublished paper presented at 1998 American Journalism
Historians Association Annual Conference in Louisville, KY.

21 Richard Martin, Consolidation: Jacksonville, Duval County
(Jacksonville: Convention Press, Inc., 1968), 160.

would control the city. They claimed that consolidation was

a communist-inspired idea.22

Residents of areas outside the city had been bombarded

with warnings that they would be giving up the independence

they had always enjoyed and that they would be paying taxes

to support the workings of the City of Jacksonville. If they

voted against consolidation, citizens of the area would have

been continuing a long tradition of refusing to become part

of a massive area government.23

Why then did this vote turn out differently from earlier

referenda on Jacksonville area consolidation? Why, when the

ballots were counted, had area voters approved consolidation

by an almost 2-1 margin?24 Furthermore, why had county voters

approved consolidation by a margin of 8-5? Given the

similarities between the 1967 election and other elections

involving issues of combined governments for the Jacksonville

area, which will be described in chapter 7, what was the

difference in this one?

Several factors contributed to the outcome in this

complicated issue, such as strong leadership, willingness of

22 Ibid., 155.

23 Ibid., XI-XIII.

24 Ibid., 224.

consolidation backers to tweak the plan to accommodate

opponents, strong African-American support, teamwork between

legislators and local proponents, almost wholehearted

business support, and strong media support once backers of

the plan started their work.25 One of the major differences,

however, was the work of a group of investigative reporters

at television station WJXT.

The reporters, led by News Director Bill Grove and

Editorial Director Norm Davis, started their work in early

1964. Less than three years later, in late 1996, when the

Local Government Study Commission released its recommendation

for consolidation, eight county and city officials who had

been subjects of WJXT investigative reports and editorials

were indicted on 104 counts. The counts involved

expenditures of government funds for personal items, the use

of government vehicles for personal needs, padding payrolls,

subverting the competitive bidding system to award contracts

to favorite companies, bribery, perjury, and grand larceny.

WJXT was alone in its zeal to uncover the wrongs in area

government. It is impossible to prove, but well within the

realm of possibility that had WJXT not begun exposing

25 Ibid., 226-234.

malfeasance in government in 1964 there would not have been a

successful 1967 consolidation movement.

The editorial crusade undertaken by WJXT targeted

corrupt government in the city and county, put WJXT income in

danger, and put the lives of station personnel at risk. It

was, nonetheless, another example of genuine community


Ralph Renick

Ralph Renick served as news director and anchor of WTVJ-

TV in Miami for thirty-five years, commencing in 1950. The

station began doing editorials in 1957, with Renick as

editorial director and presenter. When his tenure at WTVJ was

over, he estimated that he had delivered more than 50,000

editorials.27 Many of Renick's editorials, like those of

WJXT, involved local government corruption.28

A crusade against governmental inadequacies and another

against unsanitary conditions in Miami restaurants, as well

26 Joe Glover, "Media Influence on City-County Consolidation
in Jacksonville and Duval County, Florida, 1967." Unpublished
paper, 1997, University of Florida.

27 S.L. Alexander, "May the Good News Be Yours: Ralph Renick
and Florida's First News" Mass Comm Review 19, 2 (Winter-
Spring 1992): 57-63.

28 Gerald Vincent Flannery, "Local Television Editorializing:
A Case Study of the Editorials of Ralph Renick on WTVJ-TV"
(Ph.D. diss., Ohio University, 1966).

as continuing editorials on race relations, best illustrated

the communitarianism aspects of Renick' s editorializing. In

the first case, seventy-three editorials against inadequate

law enforcement were broadcast in 1966. In the second case,

a series of twelve editorials about unsanitary conditions in

Miami restaurants aired in 1973.29 In all three crusades,

Renick was risking the station's bottom-line. The restaurant

campaign, for instance, brought "an almost daily danger of

advertising losses and lawsuits," as well as resulting in

assault and battery charges against a restaurateur who

physically attacked a WTVJ reporter and cameraman.30

Problem. Purpose. Research Ouestions. Methodoloav.
Significance. Scope and Limitations

The function of this portion of the introductory chapter

is to outline the structure of this research. It is divided

into six sections. In the first section, the problem of lack

of public trust in the press is described. In part two, the

purpose of this research, which is to illuminate possible

remedies for the problem, is outlined. Part three lists the

questions to be answered. Methodology is described in part

29 Paul Ashdown, "Television and the Editorial Crusade: A Case
Study of WTVJ-TV, 1965-1973" (Ph.D. diss., Bowling Green
State University, 1975).

30 Ibid., 130.

four. In part five, the significance of this work is set

forth. Finally, scope and limitations are specified in part



The first problem to be faced in this study is

determining what it is that makes community journalism

community journalism, to determine what the qualities are

that distinguish community journalism from standard


A second problem is distinguishing what it was that made

Joe Brechner, Norm Davis, and Ralph Renick community

journalists, distinguishing what it was that made them

different from journalists in the 1990s who claimed they were

practicing community journalism.

A third problem is determining what community journalism

is supposed to do, and if it is not doing that, why not?

This third problem is reflected in the Freedom Forum surveys

cited in this chapter. Journalists are under fire for

failing to shed light on their communities' problems, for

failing to investigate stories in depth, for favoring stories

or reporting techniques that sensationalize the news.

Readers and viewers are increasingly less inclined to grant

the press the full protections of the First Amendment.

Newspapers and broadcast news organizations are suffering

losses in readership and viewership. In order to win those

news consumers back, some members of the press are turning to

community journalism and, in so doing, may be widening the

gap between news consumers and news reporters.


The purpose of this study will be to compare and

contrast the community journalism of today with the community

journalism practiced by Brechner, Davis, and Renick. With

that comparison as a reference point, the research attempts

to determine who the real practitioners of public journalism

are, or were. This is a topic important to today' s

journalists who are searching for ways to restore their

credibility and public trust. The present study suggests it

is possible Brechner, Renick, and Davis can light the way.

Research Ouestions

As indicated above, researchers must ask, "What is it?

What is community journalism?" This dissertation attempts

not so much to define community journalism as it was

practiced in the 1990s as to describe it. A second question

to be answered by this study is, "Were the three

editorialists who are the focus of this dissertation

community journalists?" That will become evident in

subsequent chapters and will be discussed in the appropriate

section. Also to be answered is the question of whether

today' s community journalists could consider Brechner, Davis,

and Renick journalists to be emulated.


On a philosophical level, Aristotle told those at the

agora that a virtuous deed is virtuous only if it is done for

its own sake. If the good result of an ostensibly virtuous

deed is only a by-product of the action, if the action was

performed with another end in mind, then the deed is not

virtuous.31 If community journalism falls into the second

category, it is a sham. This research attempts to determine

which practitioners of community journalism were, or are,

community journalists as defined above. On a more practical

level, one must ask if the community journalism of today' s

practitioners is the way to accomplish community journalism' s

stated goals. That is, to bring back the audiences that have

turned away from newspapers and television news in such great

numbers or, would community journalism as practiced by

Brechner, Renick, and Davis be more effective in the long


31 Aristotle, The Nichomachean Ethics, D. Ross, trans.
(Oxford: Oxford Press, 1987), 53.

Additionally, the three broadcasters studied for this

work working in a state that was not fully of the South or of

the North. They were working in a state that was in

transition and, therefore, represented a middle ground of


Brechner, Davis, and Renick are crucial to understanding

the shift in momentum for television editorializing in the

1960s, which would pave the way for the next stage of

community journalism. They are part of the continuum along

which journalism has developed. Broadcasters before them

avoided editorializing. In the 1960s, broadcast

editorializing increased. In a limited number of cases, it

was editorializing with a strong element of crusading. In

more recent times, editorializing and crusading journalism

have decreased, in part because of business factors.


The research relies heavily on primary sources and

material. The primary material is used to lay a baseline for

further research. It is used to illustrate what the

editorialists were doing and, when possible, what they were

thinking, what their motivations were.

University of Florida journalism professor Bernell Tripp

has offered five guidelines for use in determining choice of

biographical subjects:

1. Depth of influence: profession/sphere; era;
2. Peer recognition
3. Contribution to history as a whole
4. Access to "true voice"
5. Personal interest32

All three of the subjects of this dissertation qualify

under Tripp' s standards. All were influential in their

profession, in their time, and in their community. All

received recognition from both their professional peers and

their fellow citizens. Because of the relatively short

amount of time that has passed since the three editorialists

were at work, it would be precipitous to attempt to determine

their overall place in history. However, because they are

acknowledged as having been editorial pioneers, it is not

presumptuous to expect that, in time, their importance will

be considered substantial. There is access to true voice in

all three cases. Some of the true voice is found in the

editorials written by Brechner, Davis, and Renick and some of

32 Bernell Tripp, Class lecture in "Biography as History," 26
August 1998, University of Florida.

it in other writings. In the case of Norm Davis, it is found

in personal interviews. This true voice is invaluable in

revealing motivation. Personal interest in journalists who

contribute to the communities in which they live fulfills the

final criterion.

This research uses the many writings available on

community journalism for context in the sections on current

community journalism practices. There is ample background

material, both secondary and primary, to provide context for

the period when the three Florida editorialists were writing.

Almost all of the editorials of the three Floridians are

available for review. The editorials of Joe Brechner are now

housed at the Orlando Historical Society. Norm Davis has

kept some of his editorials in a personal archive. The

Renick editorials are stored at the Wolfson Archive at the

Miami-Dade Public Library.

There are writings and transcriptions of speeches from

the three editorialists. Some of these works are direct

comment on the process of broadcast editorializing. This

information is also valuable for purposes of attempting to

determine motivation. Newspapers from Miami, Jacksonville,

and Orlando are a secondary source of information about

Brechner, Renick, and Davis. These newspapers frequently

confirm information found in the primary material, as well as

providing context.

Oral history interviews are also a major part of this

research. In several interviews, Joe Brechner' s widow,

Marion, remembered a great deal of what was happening at

WFTV-TV in the 1960s. She was in charge of public relations

at the station during the period studied. Norm Davis, an

attorney in Miami when this work was in progress, made

himself available for interviews. Ralph Renick' s brother,

his mother, his oldest daughter, and his only son were all

willing to discuss his life and motivations. There are two

doctoral dissertations available on Renick and WTVJ-TV.33

Both are described in the literature review section.

It is fortunate that there is so much information

available because what emerges from the writings of various

historians who consider methodology is an overall sense that

rigorous attention must be paid to context, to verifying that

evidence is genuine, to its true meaning, to motivation of

both the historian and his/her subjects, and that no one

factor can be considered sufficient cause for what has

happened in the past. For that reason, particular attention

33 Ashdown, "Editorial Crusade" and Flannery, "Local
Television Editorializing."

is paid to other factors present during the time period and

in the communities where the three editorialists worked.

Scope and Limitations

This study examines two time periods. The late 1950s

through the early 1970s has been chosen for illustration of

the work done by the three editorialists because it was

during this time period that all three were editorially most


In Jacksonville, WJXT-TV was a driving force behind the

push for change in governmental structure. It was the WJXT

editorials and investigative reporting that provided the

motivation to make governmental consolidation a reality after

a long history in Jacksonville of failure to win voter

approval for consolidation.

Joe Brechner had editorialized for years on his

broadcast stations. As early as the late 1940s, Brechner was

a strong editorial voice in Silver Spring, Maryland, and was

also writing magazine articles in support of broadcast

editorializing. It was, however, in Orlando that Brechner' s

editorials promoting civil rights showed that a strong

broadcast editorial voice in the community can make a strong

and positive contribution.

In Miami during this time, Ralph Renick was

editorializing on several issues. Although many of those

issues, such as taxes, city government, state government, and

roads were important, Renick' s true communitarianism was

exhibited in four editorial crusades: the first on organized

crime in Miami and its effect on local law enforcement, the

second on restaurant health standards, another on "B-Girl"

strip joints, and a fourth on civil rights.

The present research attempts to describe and analyze

the community journalism efforts of the late 1980s and 1990s.

It is in this more recent period that the community

journalism effort became a major factor in both print and TV

journalism.34 It is against this recent standard that the

research measures the community journalism efforts of the

three Florida editorialists.

Also included in this research is a limited examination

of the news programs and documentaries of the stations where

Brechner, Davis, and Renick worked. These other news-

programming facets are covered only insofar as they were

corollary to the editorial campaigns of the three

editorialists. They help to explain the crusading nature of

34 Michael Foley, "A Challenging New Dimension to Service,"
The Irish Times, 1 April 1988, 23.

the overall work of the three editorialists and their


In addition to the chapters on context, involving civil

rights in Florida and the United States during the

editorialists' time period, there is personal background on

the editorialists. This background attempts to illuminate

their motivations in practicing community journalism, but

there is no attempt to present said background as biography;

that is left for later works.

This study is limited to the work of the three

editorialists who are its focus and the 1990s community

journalists with whom the editorialists are compared and

contrasted. There is no attempt to include the work of other

editorialists who were working in Florida or in other parts

of the United States during the same time period.

The examination of community journalism is limited to

the decade of the 1990s. In a work devoted exclusively to

the origins of community journalism, it would be possible,

yea necessary, to examine some part of every era of

journalism history, from the days of the American Revolution

to the era of the muckrakers, to the Watergate era. That is

also left to later research, for to include it would take

this study far afield. Furthermore, it was in the 1990s that

media outlets began calling what they were doing "community


Freedom Forum surveys in 1997 and 1999 carried "bad

news" for 1990s journalists. The surveys showed that

American citizens were progressively less inclined to support

full First Amendment rights for the press. News readers and

viewers were increasingly disillusioned with the way the

press had done its job. A group of journalists, in an

attempt to regain viewer and reader loyalty, began practicing

community journalism. The proclaimed purpose of community

journalism was to give American citizens more information

with which to participate in the public life of their

communities. There was in community journalism, however,

also an apparent motivation of selling newspapers and

building television ratings.

In an attempt to determine if community journalism of

the 1990s was practiced with genuine communitarian

motivations, this research compares the 1990s community

journalists to three television editorialists who were

working circa the 1960s and who appear to be genuine

community journalists.


The literature for this research comes from two areas.

To determine the degree to which the three Florida

editorialists were practicing community journalism, a review

of the literature on community journalism is necessary. The

other area deals with the editorialists themselves.

Community Journalism

The writings on community journalism fall into two

groups. The first is academic; the second, opinion--opinions

that fall on either side of the community journalism debate.

Even the best known of the participants in the conversation

tend to offer editorials rather than research. Several of

the citations in the section below on academic works on

community journalism are from a 1998 conference at the

University of South Carolina. Some of the articles presented

at that academic conference were of no use for an academic

literature review because they, too, were no more than

opinion. That is the location community journalists now

occupy. They are part of a movement, if it can be called

such, that is still being defined, a stage in which opinion

is helping to write the definition.

Accordingly, much of the written material on community

journalism is opinion. That information will be covered

below. The majority of what does exist in the way of

academic research on community journalism deals either with

print journalism or with the philosophical underpinnings of

the movement. This material is valuable to the present

research for the light it sheds on what community journalism

claims to be and what it actually is. It is used to

illustrate that Brechner, Davis, and Renick practiced a truer

form of community journalism.

Civic Lessons: A Report on Four Civic Journalism

Projects is one of several studies funded by the Pew Center

for Civic Journalism and the Pew Charitable Trusts. Esther

Thorsen of the Center for Advanced Social Research at the

University of Missouri and Lewis A. Friedland of the

School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University

of Wisconsin-Madison studied four civic journalism projects

in 1996. Civic Lessons included civic journalism projects in

Charlotte, North Carolina; Madison, Wisconsin; San Francisco,

California; and Binghamton, New York.

Thorsen and Friedland were asked to "ascertain the

impact of the projects in their respective communities; to

determine what kinds of projects seem to work best and why;

and to see what impact the projects had on the newsrooms

involved."35 With the assistance of several colleagues,

Friedland interviewed subjects in newsrooms, in communities

where civic journalism projects were underway, and in

governmental offices in those communities. In all, 400

people were interviewed.

The foreword of Civic Lessons stated:

By far the most significant finding in the evaluators'
report is that, on the whole, civic journalism is making
progress toward its goals. It benefits both the
communities it serves and the overall democratic
process. Most people surveyed who were aware of the
four projects chosen for study reported being more
knowledgeable and concerned about their communities as a
result and indicated they had a stronger sense of their
civic responsibilities, especially as voters.36

Thorsen and Friedland assumed correctly that not all

their findings would be positive. While readers responded

warmly to the projects, there was considerable resistance

from within the newsrooms they studied. Editors and

35 Esther Thorsen and Lewis A. Friedland, Civic Lessons,
(Philadelphia: Pew Center for Civic Journalism, 1996), 1.

36 Ibid.

reporters feared civic journalism was taking the power out of

their hands and depositing it in the hands of readers.

According to Thorsen and Friedland, the success of the

four civic journalism projects they studied was due to the

focus on local issues, issues important to local readers and

viewers. "All of the projects, in very different ways,

listened to citizen concerns, took them seriously, and then

invested the time, money, and experience necessary to engage

in a type of sustained enterprise reporting that is becoming

increasingly rare in American journalism."37 It may or may

not be significant that the study was commissioned and paid

for by the Pew Center for Civic Journalism, but that fact

should be noted.

Another research study commissioned by the Pew

Center reached less positive conclusions about civic

journalism. Does Public Journalism Work? The Campaign

Central Experience, a study released by the Pew Center for

Civic Journalism and The Record newspaper of Hackensack,

New Jersey, examined the role of civic journalism in the

37 Ibid., 10.

1996 race for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Bill


The Record had been an advocate of public journalism

since 1992, expanding its coverage of political issues, as

opposed to horse-race coverage, beginning with the 1992

presidential contest. More polling had been conducted on

public opinions on issues and values. More news columns and

editorials had been devoted to reader opinions and ideas.

The Record continued, and even expanded, its public

journalism approach for the 1996 races.

Blomquist and Zukin chose the "Campaign Central" project

because it

presented a unique opportunity to assess the impact of
public journalism. Because New Jersey does not have a
single dominant statewide newspaper, it was readily
possible to construct a statewide sample of adults who
experienced the same campaigns for president and U.S.
Senate but saw different daily newspapers. This allowed
us to address an issue that challenged other
researchers: the absence of a meaningful control group.39

Blomquist and Zukin reported editors who attended focus

groups organized to determine the effectiveness of their

38 David Blomquist and Cliff Zukin, Does Public Journalism
Work? The Campaign Central Experience, 1997. Available at
the web site of the Pew Center for Civic Journalism,

39 Ibid.

public journalism left the meetings "stunned and somewhat

shaken." Most respondents remembered little of the public

journalism section in The Record. Most Record readers in the

focus groups did not even remember the public journalism

section when it was passed around the room. It was the

candidates' television commercials that most respondents


The researchers concluded:

Record readers were no more interested in the election
or knowledgeable about the candidates and the issues
than readers of other New Jersey newspapers. They had
about the same level of trust in politics as other
newspaper readers, and were not significantly more
likely to vote or to talk about the election with people
outside their family, once demographic differences were
controlled. Their opinions of The Record and its
political coverage were roughly comparable to the
opinions of other New Jersey readers about their local

Blomquist and Zukin also concluded that journalists are

limited in their ability to dictate how, or if, citizens can

be reconnected to their political systems.

As part of their study, Blomquist and Zukin took a

closer view of the public journalism project in Charlotte,

North Carolina, which is outlined elsewhere in this

dissertation. They found that, despite a more optimistic

40 Ibid.

report by the Charlotte Observer, only one in four readers

noticed anything different about the Observer's political

coverage after the newspaper had shifted to public journalism

techniques. The project involving the Observer was part of a

larger, statewide, project involving fifteen newspapers and

television stations throughout North Carolina. Blomquist and

Zukin reported that only one in four North Carolina voters

were even aware of the project.

James R. Bowers, Blair Claflin, and Gary Walker, in a

paper prepared for the 1998 Annual Meeting of the New England

Political Science Association, reported on the effects of a

five-year civic journalism project in Rochester, New York.

Bowers and his co-authors studied the work done by

Rochester' s daily newspaper, the Democrat and Chronicle;

Rochester' s public television and radio outlet, WXXI; and

commercial television station WOKR-TV. WOKR-TV did not join

the effort until 1996.41 The five-year undertaking involved

41 James R. Bowers, Blair Claflin and Gary walker, The Impact
of Civic Journalism On Voting Behavior in State-Wide
Referendums: A Case Study From Rochester, New York (Paper
prepared for presentation at the 1998 Annual Meeting of the
New England Political Science Association. Available at the
web site of the Pew Center for Civic Journalism,

the Rochester Mayor's race in 1993 and the 1995 election for

Monroe County Executive.

The partners in the civic journalism project made a

decision to move beyond campaign coverage when the Pew Center

for Civic Journalism awarded them $35,000 to put together a

series on the condition of the educational system in

Rochester. The first project involving all three of the

partners was the "Make Us Safe" project in 1996. Make Us

Safe was aimed at curbing youth violence in Rochester.42

The first issue faced by partners in the Rochester project

was that the New York State Constitution requires a

referendum be held every twenty years to ask voters whether

the state should hold a new constitutional convention.

"Nineteen Ninety-seven was such a year."43 The partners

attempted to recruit other news organizations in other parts

of the state to participate but were, for the most part,

unsuccessful. Bowers and the other researchers wrote that

the failure to expand the constitutional convention civic

journalism campaign provided an opportunity to determine if

42 Ibid.

43 Ibid.

the campaign would bring out voters in larger numbers than in

areas where there had been no such campaign.

Bowers, Claflin, and Walker discovered that was exactly

what had happened. Approximately 80 percent of the voters

came to the polls in the six-county Rochester area, only 71

percent in the remainder of the upstate area, and only 36

percent in New York City. The previous attempts at civic

journalism campaigns had not been nearly as successful.

Bowers and the others concluded that on issues, such as the

constitutional convention question, "where there are no

traditional cues and determinants of political behavior at

work," civic journalism is more likely to have an impact. On

issues involving more traditional political conflict, such as

general elections, there is not as likely to be a major civic

journalism influence. "Additionally," said Bowers and

associates, "it is important to emphasize that even if there

were no assessment issues surrounding its impact, the

practice of civic journalism cannot be expected in only a few

years to turn around the decline in public life that has

taken a generation to accomplish."44

44 Ibid.

Editorial page involvement in public journalism projects

and efforts was examined in the 1998 Ph.D. dissertation of

Camille Renee Kraeplin at the University of Texas at Austin.

In The Role of the Editorial Page in Newspaper-Based Public

Journalism, Kraeplin reported on the results of a mail survey

distributed to members of the National Conference of

Editorial Writers. The respondents were asked questions

designed to determine to what extent their knowledge of and

involvement in public journalism influenced their attitudes

toward the movement. They were asked how much they knew

about public journalism, if they agreed with the movement's

basic concepts, if their editorial departments had

participated in public journalism projects, what those

projects involved, and how successful the projects had been.45

Kraeplin' s data showed that most of the respondents were

supporters of public journalism, even though most of them

were skeptical of the movement. The respondents also

believed that the priorities of public journalism

corresponded with the priorities of their own editorial

45 Kraeplin, Camille Renee, "The Role of the Editorial Page in
Newspaper-Based Public Journalism" (Ph.D. diss., University
of Texas at Austin, 1998).

departments, but they were concerned that pursuing those

priorities might compromise newsroom objectivity.

Kraeplin concluded that the most significant obstacle on

the road to acceptance of public journalism by members of the

working press might be misperceptions about public journalism

philosophy. Kraeplin also reported she had found support for

a more active editorial presence in public journalism

projects. Opposition could be reduced, wrote Kraeplin, by

giving the editorial department primary control over public

journalism efforts within the newsroom. Such a move,

suggested Kraeplin, would allay the fears of those in the

newsroom who feared losing the proper reportorial distance

from the subjects of their reports while, at the same time,

lessen the fears of editorial writers who feel public

journalism projects are an intrusion into an area that is

normally reserved for the editorial department.

John R. Bender and Charlyne Berens have also attempted

to determine who within the ranks of journalists is most

likely to support public journalism. Bender and Berens

asked, "What leads some journalists to embrace and others to

abhor public journalism?" Specifically, these researchers,

in a survey sent to 268 weekly and daily newspapers, were

trying to determine if characteristics such as age,

education, and market size affect acceptance of public


Bender and Berens reported, "For the most part, the

respondents took positions consistent with the principles and

goals of public journalism," showing overwhelming support for

the newspapers that try to make a difference in their

communities, and try to involve citizens in public debate in

an effort to improve a community' s public life. The research

showed that journalists who start at weeklies are more likely

to agree with the precepts of public journalism than those

who start at dailies. Older journalists displayed no more

resistance to the tenets of public journalism than younger

journalists. Editors were less receptive to public

journalism than were executives and reporters. Bender and

Berens wrote:

If the majority or even a strong plurality of
journalists agrees with the tenets of public journalism
as we operationalize them in this study, what are we
arguing about? Perhaps the problem is not so much one
of differing ideologies as of simple misunderstanding.
Perhaps we are not so much working at cross-purposes as
simply speaking in different dialects.47

46 James R. Bender and Charlyne Berens, "Public Journalism' s
Incubator: Identifying Preconditions for Support," presented
at Public Journalism: A Critical Forum, conference at the
University of South Carolina, 11-13 October 1998.

47 Ibid.

In a 1998 master's thesis at the University of Western

Ontario, Delaney Lyle Turner compared the penny press and

public journalism. From Classes to Masses: A Comparative

Study of the Penny Press and Public Journalism was a work

involving literature review and telephone interviews in which

Turner researched the origins, as well as the goals, of both

periods of journalism. Political, social, economic, and

technological factors of both the penny press and public

journalism were examined with an eye toward comparison.

Delaney's stated intent was to show there are direct

parallels between the penny press and public journalism, the

most important parallel being in the journalist's

responsibility to democracy. He concluded his research

confirmed the parallels, particularly in the aforementioned

commitment to democracy.48

University of South Carolina Ph.D. student Rebecca A.

Payne contended that public journalism has evolved enough to

be considered in a second stage of development. No longer

are public journalists involved solely in generating

reporting projects that can be called "public journalism."

48 Delaney Lyle Turner, "From Classes to Masses: A Comparative
Study of the Penny Press and Public Journalism" (Master's
Thesis, University of Western Ontario, 1998).

They are now attempting to improve daily journalism and

originating projects that are intended to do what public

journalism was supposed to do all along: improve citizen

participation in public life.

Payne' s dissertation is a case study of the public

journalism efforts of the Columbia, South Carolina, State

newspaper to improve its connection with its readers.

"Project Reconnect," another venture sponsored by the Pew

Center for Civic Journalism, asked readers how daily news

coverage could be improved. The readers targeted were those

who reported that religion affected their daily decisions.

The Knight-Ridder Corporation also provided funding for

Project Reconnect. Knight-Ridder is the State's parent


Payne utilized a reader focus group as well as data

collected by the State and a questionnaire filled out by

State reporters and editors to determine their opinions of

Project Reconnect and public journalism. There was also an

analysis of contents of the State to determine if the paper

was practicing public journalism.

Payne concluded that public journalism done poorly could

harm, not heal, newspaper relationships with readers; that

reporter involvement and clearly defined goals and a method

for measuring the results of public journalism projects are

critical to the success of second-stage public journalism;

and, concluded Payne, public journalists must avoid even the

appearance of pandering to their readers.49

Susan Willey acknowledged the similar aims of the

Hutchins Commission and public journalists in a series of

case studies of public journalism projects. Willey wrote:

"Civic, or public journalists at some newspapers are

attempting to bridge [ the] journalist-citizen communication

gap by using a variety of creative methods to systematically

listen to citizens--to talk with rather than talk at the

people.50 Willey examined the work of four newspapers. All

four papers made an effort to give readers more of a voice in

determining how news was covered.

It was Willey' s conclusion that journalists' efforts to

listen to their readers serve as a catalyst for both

49 Rebecca A. Payne, "Connecting in Columbia, South Carolina:
A Case Study in Public Journalism" (Ph.D. diss., University
of South Carolina, 1998). Several of the works cited in this
section were presented at this same conference. This was one
of the few sources of works by academics on community
journalism. Most writing on the subject is partisan opinion,
some of which is included later in this chapter.

5o Susan Willey, "Civic Journalism in Practice: Case Studies
in the Art of Listening," Newspaper Research Journal, 19
(Winter 1998): 16.

knowledge and discussion and that journalists are finding

ways to use reader input in the news reporting process. "In

effect, these journalists seem to be creating new paradigms

for newsgathering, using a citizen-based informational


In 1996, James Robert Compton, in a think piece,

reported on the theoretical foundations for public

journalism, examining the communicative theories of American

pragmatist John Dewey and German thinker Jurgen Habermas.

Compton wrote that public journalism is an attempt to put

Habermas's vision of discursive politics into practice.

However, asserted Compton, "the proponents of public

journalism fail to provide a critique of public life that is

informed by the historical, political and economic context of

the media industry." What Compton seemed to be saying is

that public journalists fail to consider real-world

conditions within the media and society as they attempt to

bring the public back into public life.52

Tanni Haas has also examined the influence of Habermas

and others who have taken similar approaches to public

51 Ibid.

52 James Robert Compton, "Communicative Politics and Public
Journalism" (Master' s thesis, Simon Fraser University, 1996).

discourse. Haas noted in 1996: "Little attention has been

focused on the kind of publicness [a word used frequently by

community journalists] that the news media ought to further."

The choice, according to Haas, using the works of Habermas

and Harvard political theory professor, Seyla Benhabib, in

particular as reference, is between public journalism and a

journalism of publics.53 Public journalism considers

individual members of society to be part of the whole;

society is considered to have come first. Therefore, the

interests of the individual are secondary to that of society.

A journalism of publics, on the other hand, considers

individuals primary, with society developing from those

individuals or groups of individuals. In approaching

journalism, a journalism of publics allows investigators, or

reporters, to explore the underlying values of individuals'


53 See Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the
Public Sphere (Cambridge: MIT Press,) 1990; Justification and
Application (Cambridge,: MIT Press,) 1993; Moral
Consciousness and Communicative Action (Cambridge: MIT
Press), 1990; and Seyla Benhabib, "Afterword: Communicative
Ethics and Contemporary Controversies in Practical
Philosophy," in S. Benhabib and F. Dallmayr (eds.), The
Communicative Ethics Controversy (Cambridge: MIT Press,) 330-
369; Selya Benhabib, Situating the Self (New York:
Routledge), 1992.

It was Haas' s conclusion that the argument over what the

press is supposed to do, as waged several decades ago by

Dewey and Lippmann, is continuing and is resulting in a

"crisis of civic communication." Civic journalism is faced

with its own argument: public journalism or a journalism of


In a think piece drawing on theories of philosophy,

David K. Perry viewed the civic journalism debate as a

conversation between nominalists and realists.55 There are

elements of both in the civic journalism movement. It is

possible, wrote Perry, for civic journalism to adopt either a

purely nominalist approach or a purely realist approach. It

is also possible to adopt a combination of the two, which

Perry said is more realistic. In approaching the practice of

civic journalism, its practitioners should, according to

Perry, adopt not only the "I" of nominalism, but also the

"me" of realism. In this way, civic journalists can be both

54 Tanni Haas, Towards a Democratically Viable Conception of
Publicness: The Case of Public Journalism," presented at
Public Journalism: A Critical Forum, conference at the
University of South Carolina, 11-13 October 1998.

55 Nominalists theorize that universals exist only in the
mind. Realists theorize that universals exists independent
of thought or perception.

commentators on and participants in the society they write


One duty of journalists to be considered is the duty to

the broader world at large, as opposed to the specific

community in which the journalist operates. Wrote Perry:

[C]ivic journalists perhaps should emphasize the welfare
of the entire human race, as well as that of their
local community. This would seem to fall closer to
the midpoint of the hypothesized nominalism-realism
scale than does one that considers the interests of only
a specified community or of only the entire human

In Local Television News and Viewer Empowerment: TV

Journlism's Role in Empowering an Informed and Active Public,

Denise Barkis Richter advanced her theory that it is newsroom

attitudes that hamstring the public journalism effort.

Richter conducted a content analysis of 194 local television

news stories and found that only four of them contained

"empowering information." She defined empowering information

as information that not only allows viewers to take steps to

correct an undesirable situation, but also gives them

56 David K. Perry, "Civic Journalism, Nominalism and Realism,"
presented at Public Journalism: A Critical Forum, conference
at the University of South Carolina, 11-13 October 1998.

information, such as phone numbers and addresses, needed to

reach those who are in position to bring about changes.

Richter conducted in-depth interviews with fifteen local

television news workers (reporters, writers, and producers)

and found there were three primary reasons empowering

information was left out of local newscasts: (1) Employers

showed no commitment to including such information in news

stories. (2) News workers themselves showed no enterprise in

gathering and disseminating such information, relying instead

on "spot news" stories. (3) News workers perceived that

viewers did not want such information, that viewers were more

interested in human-interest stories than in stories of wider


Richter recommended that television stations devote the

same resources to developing empowering information as is now

devoted to such viewer attractive features as the weather

report, that television stations "adopt empowering

information as their overarching philosophy," that reporters

57 Denise Barkis Richter, "Local Television News and Viewer
Empowerment: TV Journalism' s Role in Empowering an Informed
and Active Public," presented at Public Journalism: A
Critical Forum, conference at the University of South
Carolina, 11-13 October 1998.

58 Ibid.

be given the time and resources to develop stories involving

empowering information, and that television stations stop

underestimating the needs of their viewers. Without these

steps, warned, Richards, "Television news will not live up to

its full potential."59

Scott Maier used content analysis to study public

journalism on television in eighteen U.S. markets during the

1996 elections. Maier asked: "In short, did television

broadcasters pledged to public journalism deliver their

promised reform?" Maier also compared his results to those

of a previous study of public journalism at newspapers in

twenty markets during the same election season. Deborah

Potter of the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Florida,

conducted that study. Researchers at the University of North

Carolina at Chapel Hill assisted Potter.60

Maier's reported results indicated that broadcasters were

not as intent on providing public journalism as were the

newspaper journalists studied by Potter. There was a slight

59 Ibid.

60 Scott Maier and Deborah Potter, "Public Journalism Through
the Television Lens: How Did The Broadcast Media Perform in
Campaign '96?," presented at Public Journalism: A Critical
Forum, conference at the University of South Carolina, 11-13
October 1998.

difference in coverage provided by the television public

journalists when they were compared with nonpublic journalism

television reporters, but it was statistically insignificant.

Conversely, the public journalism newspapers in Potter's

study had shown a substantial difference in content. Baier

noted the results of his study demonstrate the strong

resistance to public journalism in television newsrooms and

an apparent difficulty in adapting television to public

journalism because of the dependence on high-impact visuals

and quick sound bites.61

Two groups of young people, a group of high school

students and a group of undergraduate journalism students,

were studied by Eleanor M. Novek to determine the attitudes

of young news student/consumers and their reactions to civic

journalism. Using a survey administered to both groups,

Novek attempted to determine what the expectations of

students were and how to employ civic journalism in

delivering the news product young people want.62

61 Ibid.

62 Eleanor M. Novek, "In the Public Interest?--NOT!" Young
People Assess the Social Responsibility of the Press in Civic
Journalism," presented at Public Journalism: A Critical
Forum, conference at the University of South Carolina, 11-13
October 1998.

Novek found the high school students less accepting of

the examples of civic journalism they were shown than were

the college journalism students. The high school students,

"evaluated civic journalism and its claims of social

accountability and found them wanting." The high schoolers

believed that the news coverage they were shown was "driven

by economic concerns." The college students believed what

they were shown demonstrated journalists' attempts to be more

socially responsible.63

Novek concluded that young people are, contrary to some

reports, ready to participate in a more engaged relationship

with the media, as long as the media conduct themselves in a

socially responsive manner. Novek expressed an expectation

that young audiences will demand ethical, socially

responsible news coverage that encourages democratic

participation and, in so doing, "will be able to make their

voices heard in the public sphere."64

Working with the School of Communication at Webster

University, Don Corrigan conducted a mail survey of newspaper

editors and journalism professors in late 1996. Corrigan was

63 Ibid.

64 Ibid.

trying to determine what constitutes a public journalism

project. Six projects were outlined for the respondents, who

were asked if each project was a genuine public journalism

effort and whether they supported such projects.

With the exception of only one project, Corrigan found

little agreement on what the term "public journalism" means.

Only projects getting voters involved in discussions of the

issues in political races were thought to be true public

journalism projects by the respondents. The program used as

an example by Corrigan was the "Voice of the Voter" campaign

a 1994 San Francisco Chronicle, KRON-TV and KQED-FM


Corrigan concluded that the differences of opinion over

what a public journalism project is has led to the so-called

"definition problem" of public journalism. That, in turn,

allows critics of public journalism to "fire at will,"

defining what form the target will take. In addition, wrote

Corrigan, public journalists are working without a blueprint,

inventing the phenomenon as they go; if they don't soon

address the definition problem, public journalism will have

no future.65

Don Corrigan. "Racial Pledges, Gang Summits, Election
Forums--What Actually Makes a Public Journalism Project?"
St. Louis Journalism Review 27 (March 1997): 1.

James Englehardt, a graduate student at the University

of Oregon' s School of Journalism and Communication, presented

a think piece based on the writings of community journalism

advocates and critics at the University of South Carolina

Community Journalism Forum. Englehardt refuted the accepted

ideas of both the public journalists and the critics of

public journalism. Both, he has said, are off-target.

Englehardt noted in 1998, as did Haas, mentioned above, that

the public journalism debate is a renewal of the

Dewey/Lippmann debate. Perhaps the greatest weakness of

public journalism, according to Englehardt, is that "it

remains ill-defined," with no consensus even on whether it

should be called public journalism, civic journalism,

communitarian journalism, or one of the other names assigned

to it at various times by various practitioners. The public

journalists, wrote Englehardt, make some false assumptions,

the foremost being that journalism is suffering because of a

loss of public trust in public life. Public journalism

critics also make false assumptions, he said, the foremost

being that public journalism sounds the death-knell for


66 James Englehardt, "Public Journalism, Objectivity and
Public Life," presented at Public Journalism: A Critical

Englehardt concluded that public journalists cannot

escape the problem of lacking a true definition of what

public journalism is by simply claiming that experiments

cannot be defined. Conversely, it is unfair for critics of

public journalism to "expect a concise definition of public

journalism." One way to solve the problem, according to

Englehardt, is for public journalists to hold the kind of

forums they encourage the public to engage in, only the

conversation would not concern government and public life; it

would revolve around a definition for public journalism.

Wrote Englehardt, "These are deeper issues that journalists

need to confront before throwing more time and money into the

practical implementations of public journalism."67

Beyond a Proper Literature Review:
Partisan Viewpoints

The works cited above in the community journalism

literature review are all scholarly attempts to define,

analyze, and explain community journalism. The authors of

those works must inevitably refer to the partisans in the

community journalism debate. Therefore, at least a sampling

Forum, conference at the University of South Carolina, 11-13
October 1998.

67 Ibid.

of the works of those partisans is necessary to this section.

What follows is a sampling of the writings of not only the

proponents of community journalism but also the writings of

those who see community journalism as a threat, or at least a

nuisance, for journalism.

Ed Lambeth, Philip Meyer, and Esther Thorsen' s Assessing

Public Journalism is an attempt to analyze several aspects of

public journalism.68 Most of the chapters, written by public

journalism scholars, are pro-public journalism. Lambeth,

Meyer, and Thorsen have all written chapters. Jennie Buckner

of the Charlotte Observer has contributed her views of public

journalism in the 1996 elections. Her pro-public journalism

view is refuted by editor/owner of the Ames (Iowa) Tribune,

Michael Gartner. Gartner, onetime head of NBC News, is a

strong critic of public journalism. Davis Merritt and Jay

Rosen have co-written a chapter. Merritt, who, through the

year 2000, was spending most of his time promoting public

journalism and was no longer concerned with day-to-day

operations of the Wichita Eagle, and Rosen, a professor from

New York University, were the two most enthusiastic

supporters of "public journalism." Rick Thames, who had

68 Where possible, without causing confusion, the author uses
the terms used by the practitioners.

assumed Merritt' s old job of editor at the Wichita Eagle,

discussed the effects of public journalism on the 1992

elections. There are also chapters on how to make advocates

out of public journalism doubters and on the changes in daily

news coverage public journalism brings to a newsroom.6

The community journalism "evangelist" from the

journalism side of the discussion is Davis Merritt. In

Public Journalism and Public Life, Merritt explained why he

felt a change was needed in the way journalists do their

jobs. Journalists had become too removed from the society

they cover, according to Merritt. The old standard of

objectivity was no longer useful. The traditional

journalist, said Merritt, attempts to stay uninvolved in the

stories he or she covers. The public journalist tries to get

as involved as possible. Merritt made the point throughout

that if journalism does not do the job right, and by that he

meant getting connected with the community, journalists will

become excess baggage in society, and society will no longer

need or utilize them. A symbiotic relationship is what is

called for, in Merritt's view. Symbiosis is "two dissimilar

9 Edmund B. Lambeth, Philip E. Meyer and Esther Thorson,
Assessing Public Journalism (Columbia: University of Missouri
Press, 1998).

organisms living in a mutually beneficial relationship, each

bringing something essential to the whole."70 The "two

dissimilar organisms" are the press and politicians. When

this symbiotic relationship cannot be sustained neither can

democracy. In Merritt's view, as well as in the view of many

other public journalists, it is the loss of interest in the

democratic process that has led to a loss of interest in

reading newspapers and watching television news. Merritt

claimed the way to restore a healthy press is to restore a

healthy democracy.

The community journalism "evangelist" from academe is

Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University.

Rosen and Merritt frequently appear together at public

journalism conferences, often going their own way for a few

days or a few weeks at a time, only to meet up again at

another public journalism conference or forum. They preach

the same message from different disciplines (one is an

academic, the other a member of the working press), but in

similar thoughts and words.71 In Community Connectedness,

70 Davis Merritt, Public Journalism and Public Life (Mahwah,
NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998), 52.

71 Mike Hoyt, "Are You Now, or Will You Ever Be, A Civic
Journalist," Columbia Journalism Review (September/October
1995): 27-33.

Rosen told his readers that the job of a free press is to

enhance democracy. Rosen devoted a part of his article to

the comments of the late James K. Batten, chief executive of

Knight Ridder, Inc. A Batten article was also included in

Connectedness. Batten wrote that it is incumbent upon the

press to be connected to the society it covers; it is

incumbent upon society to be an "active, engaged citizenry,

willing to join in public debate and participate in public

affairs."72 In Batten' s opinion, it is the job of the press to

convince the citizenry that being "active" and "engaged" is

necessary. If citizens do not feel they are part of a

community, and many of them do not, said Batten, they feel no

connectedness; they feel no reason to read about the factors

affecting the community. That is where public journalism

must be employed to make citizens care, to make them feel

connected, and, therefore, to make them want to read about

their community and see it reflected on the nightly TV

newscast. Batten wrote that press executives, reporters, and

editors were coming to agreement that there was a need for

newspapers to be more involved in their communities. Batten

summed up his views this way: "You can audit your

72 Jay Rosen, Community Connectedness: Passwords for Public
Journalism, The Poynter Papers: No. 3 (St. Petersburg, FL:
The Poynter Institute for Media Studies, 1993) 3.

communities, but it needs to be done in sort of a motherly

fashion. A newspaper should not be afraid to put its arms

around a community and say, I love you.'"73

Mixed News: The Public/Civic/Communitarianism Debate,74

edited by Jay Black, holder of the Poynter-Jamison chair

of mass media ethics at the University of South Florida-St.

Petersburg, is a consideration of community journalism from

the point of view of several ethicists, as well as from the

point of view of a trio of journalism' s veterans. There are

both pro and con views in Mixed News, some of them the

product of presentations made by the book' s contributors at a

1994 gathering at the University of South Florida's St.

Petersburg campus; some of them articles submitted for this

publication. Ralph Barney, a professor of communications at

Brigham Young University, and John Merrill, professor

emeritus at the University of Missouri-Columbia journalism

school, two of journalism' s most respected ethical thinkers,

have both been critical of community journalism, as have the

University of Montana' s Deni Elliot and the Freedom Forum' s

73 Ibid., 16.

74 Jay Black (ed.) Mixed News: The Public/Civic/
Communitarianism Debate (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum
Associates, 1997).

Paul McMasters. McMasters has offered eight cautions for

practitioners of public journalism. Among them is the

warning: "There will be opportunists who hijack it for a joy

ride, publishers who use it as a marketing tool, editors who

cite it to justify neglect of more traditional reporting, and

reporters who go along with it to get ahead."75 There has

also been enthusiastic support for community journalism. J.

Herbert Altschull, professor in The Writing Seminars at Johns

Hopkins University, told his readers that journalism is going

through a crisis of conscience. Noting that he had

previously written of community journalism, but called it

"participatory journalism," Altschull wrote in 1997 that he

saw a critical role in community journalism for the

electronic media. Particularly important in the community

journalism movement, in Altschull's view, was talk-radio.76

A 1995 joint publication of the Pew Center for Civic

Journalism and the Poynter Institute limns six of the public

journalism efforts that are considered seminal. Civic

Journalism: Six Case Studies, outlines partnerships between

newspapers, television stations, radio stations and, in one

75 Ibid., 191.

76 Ibid., 141.

case, a public relations firm.77 Among the six cases was the

partnership in Charlotte, North Carolina, in which WPEG-AM,

WBAV-FM, WSOC-TV, and the Charlotte Observer combined for a

project called "Taking Back Our Neighborhoods."

The ambush killing of two Charlotte police officers had

inspired "Neighborhoods." It was an attempt to get citizens

involved in cleaning up crime in their own neighborhoods, an

effort led by the media organizations. A six-month project

stretched into two years. The Observer and WSOC-TV won

awards. Assessments of the effect on crime in Charlotte were

inconclusive. In Wisconsin, a joint community journalism

effort, which included a public relations firm, attempted to

arouse citizen interest in the political process in the

Madison area. In Tallahassee, Florida, "The Public Agenda"

was also an attempt to increase community involvement in

community issues. There were descriptions of similar efforts

in Boston, San Francisco, and Seattle. Six Case Studies


Our nation's civic life is in disrepair and the
implications for journalism are ominous: Citizens who
don' t participate in the life of their community have
little need for news. Civic journalism seeks to address

77 Jan Schaffer and Edward D. Miller (eds.) Civic Journalism:
Six Case Studies Washington, DC: Pew Center for Civic
Journalism, 1995).

some of this detachment and improve journalism in a way
that may help stimulate civic discourse.78

Social Responsibility Theory

Many community journalists are either ostensibly or

genuinely motivated in part by belief in the social

responsibility of the press. For this reason, Four Theories

of the Press is a mandatory inclusion in a literature review

of community journalism. The social responsibility theory is

one of the four theories explored in Four Theories and the

Hutchins Commission is referred to several times. Generally,

social responsibility theory holds that the press has not

made responsible use of its favored position in United States

society. Social responsibility theory calls for the press to

service the political system, safeguard the liberties of the

individual, and enlighten the public.79

Works on Brechner. Davis. and Renick

Very little has been written on Joe Brechner; the only

writing about Norm Davis is contained in cursory mention

about the work of WJXT-TV. More work has been done on Ralph

Renick. The Wolfson Archive at the Miami-Dade Public Library

contains a wealth of material on Renick, much of it primary

78 Ibid., 1.

information, but also an appreciable amount of secondary


Ralph Renick has been the subject of two doctoral

dissertations. Gerald Flannery' s 1966 dissertation at Ohio

University was a study of the content of Renick' s editorials,

an attempt to go beyond national studies that had counted the

number of stations doing editorials and local studies that

had dealt only with specific editorial campaigns. 8 Flannery

worked with Renick as a news editor from 1958-1961 and was

familiar with newsroom procedures at WTVJ. He used his

contacts at the station to gain access to the files of

editorials for the period involved in his study, 2 September

1957 through 2 September 1965. Each of 1,735 editorials "was

read, coded, and recorded in terms of subject matter, use of

verbal supporting material, type of editorials, visual

materials used, individual position of the editorialist, and

effect of the editorial."81

79 Theodore Peterson, "The Social Responsibility Theory of the
Press," in Four Theories of the Press, ed. Fred S. Siebert
(Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1956), 74.
80 Gerald Vincent Flannery, "Local Television Editorializing:
A Case Study of the Editorials of Ralph Renick on WTVJ-TV"
(Ph.D. diss., Ohio University, 1966), 6.

81 Ibid., 9.

Flannery found that the majority of Renick editorials

were offshoots of news stories, that Renick tried to persuade

his viewers on the issues of the time and that the newscaster

believed editorials were more effective if delivered by

someone involved in the news, such as the news anchor.82

Flannery used his research to formulate guidelines for

television editorializing, concluding that the Renick method

was effective and should be emulated by other broadcasters.83

Editorial crusades by television stations, specifically

WTVJ, was the subject of Paul Ashdown's 1975 doctoral

dissertation at Bowling Green State University.84 Ashdown

also used content analysis but was interested primarily in

the editorials that fell into the crusade category. Two

crusades were identified. During 1966, WTVJ broadcast

seventy-three editorials, sixty-five of them consecutively,

decrying the lack of adequate law enforcement in the Miami

area.85 The crusade was picked up by Miami newspaper and

82 Ibid., 75-77.

83 Ibid., 96-99.

84 Paul Ashdown, "Television and the Editorial Crusade: A Case
Study of WTVJ-TV, 1965-1973" (Ph.D. diss., Bowling Green
State University, 1975).

85 Ibid., 106.

radio outlets and drew national attention. Public officials

were indicted. Voters decided to change the system of

selecting the sheriff.

Another crusade centered on restaurant cleanliness in

the Miami area.86 The 1973 restaurant editorials resulted in

passage of an ordinance to give government additional power

to enforce sanitation laws in Miami restaurants. The

restaurant editorials may not appear at first to fit the

pattern of editorializing on important social issues but are,

nonetheless, useful because they illustrate the communitarian

approach of the three broadcasters around which the present

study revolves. Although the issue of restaurant cleanliness

was a consumer issue, there were still elements of putting

the interest of the community first even at the risk of

economic well being and personal safety.

S.L. Alexander' s 1992 article in Mass Comm Review is

more biographical than analytical. "May the Good News Be

Yours: Ralph Renick and Florida's First News" is a

combination of source and popular biography.87 Alexander is

86 Ibid., 122.

87 S.L. Alexander, "May the Good News Be Yours: Ralph Renick
and Florida's First News" Mass Comm Review 19, 1-2 (Winter-
Spring 1992): 57-63.

clearly from the "great man" school of history, presenting

Renick as a pioneer in South Florida television, subject to

occasional criticism he did not deserve. Alexander describes

Renick' s career from the night he anchored his first newscast

on WTVJ in July 1950 to his death in July 1991. In the

intervening years he had become, in Nightline anchor Ted

Koppel's words, quoted in the Alexander article, "a national

institution in a local television market."

There is also much material on Renick and WTVJ to be

found in newspapers such as the Miami Herald, the Miami News,

the Fort Lauderdale News, the Miami Beach Daily Sun Reporter

and others. Renick was a popular topic for Miami's print

media and articles regarding his editorials appeared


Richard Martin mentions Norm Davis briefly in two works.

Martin was the Jacksonville Times-Union reporter assigned to

cover efforts to consolidate city and county government in

the Jacksonville area.88 In The City Makers, Martin said he

not only worked for the newspaper, but also had been "brought

in" by the Consolidation Study Commission to promote

88 Richard A. Martin, The City Makers (Jacksonville:
Convention Press, Inc.1972). Richard A. Martin,
Consolidation: Jacksonville, Duval County (Jacksonville:
Convention Press, Inc., 1968).

consolidation. The retired reporter and Jacksonville

historian gave himself much of the credit for the

consolidation success, but did complement WJXT-TV' s efforts

in the consolidation movement.

Although there was frequent mention of Joe Brechner in

Orlando newspapers during the 1960s, only two researchers

have included him in their work. Kathy Amick Fuqua-Cardwell

wrote briefly of Brechner in her 1992 master' s thesis at

Rollins College.89 Fuqua-Cardwell looked at questions asked

by Plato: What is Justice? What kind of state would be most

just? As she considered Socrates' conclusion that justice

involves balancing three elements of being: the rational, the

spirited and the appetite, Fuqua-Cardwell examined Central

Florida, as a representative of American society, through

this lens. It is the inclusion of everyone at the table, as

Octavio Paz has noted, that constitutes justice. That was

something that was not being done in Central Florida,

according to Fuqua-Cardwell. She illustrated her point with

an outline of racial history in the state, beginning in the

1920s and continuing through 1970.

8Kathy Amick Fuqua-Cardwell, "Racial Justice: Orange County
1920-1970" (Master' s thesis, Rollins College, Winter Park,
FL, 1992).

The tumultuous sixties are a major part of Fuqua-

Cardwell' s thesis. The fight for civil rights is the focal

point and the part played by Joe Brechner and others who were

active in Orlando's Civil Rights Movement is explored.

Fuqua-Cardwell concluded that Brechner was particularly

successful in "making the invisible visible" at a time when

the publisher of the Orlando Sentinel had, according to one

reporter, told his staff that civil rights was a taboo

subject because "[ I] f an incident was not reported, it didn't

happen."90 Although Sentinel publisher Martin Anderson kept a

lid on civil rights news, Fuqua-Cardwell wrote that Brechner

used his television station for a full discussion of the


A Linda Perry article in the 1997 compilation of

research on television history, Television in America,

examined Brechner's contribution to the Civil Rights Movement

in Orlando and traced the history of WFTV through 1969. This

article by the assistant professor of communications at

Purdue University was the inspiration for the Brechner

segment of the present work. "A TV Pioneer' s Crusade for

Civil Rights in the Segregated South" is a broad look at

90 Ibid., 101.

WFTV-TV and Joe Brechner's stewardship of the station.91

Perry called Brechner and WFTV-TV "a voice in the wilderness"

in 1960s Orlando and "a safety valve for a simmering

conflict." When Brechner was removed from active management

of WFTV" in a legal battle with the Federal Communications

Commission, concluded Perry, "a voice of reason over the

airwaves was silenced."92 The present study attempts to

narrow the focus, to analyze the themes and strategies in the

editorials, and to determine if Joe Brechner' s editorials

contributed to the less turbulent racial atmosphere in

Orlando compared to other cities of the South.

Although there is a great deal of literature on

community journalism, most of it is opinion by either the

practitioners of this kind of journalism or their critics.

There is some academic work on the subject, however. Most of

that academic work centers on newspapers or the philosophical

underpinnings of the movement. Several of the citations in

91Linda Perry, "A TV Pioneer' s Crusade for Civil Rights in
the Segregated South: WFTV, Orlando, Florida," in Television
in America: Local Station History from Across the Nation,
eds. Michael D. Murray and Donald G, Godfrey (Ames: Iowa
State University Press, 1997).

92 Ibid., 154.


this section are works first presented at a 1998 community

journalism conference at the University of South Carolina.

There is little secondary source material on Joe

Brechner, although Kathy Amick Fuqua-Cardwell briefly

mentions him in her 1992 master' s thesis. He is also the

subject of a chapter in a 1997 history of broadcasting in

America. There is even less on Norm Davis, who was mentioned

only occasionally in articles on WJXT-TV. There is more on

Ralph Renick, who has been the subject of two doctoral

dissertations and many articles in magazines, newspapers, and



This chapter reviews the work and conclusions of the

Hutchins Commission, which was financed in the 1940s by Henry

Luce, chairman of Time, Inc., to look into some of the

problems that plagued the press of Luce's day.93 First, the

origin, structure, and operation of the commission are

explained. Then the commission' s recommendations are

inventoried. Finally, reaction from the press, which was the

subject of the commission' s study, is reviewed.

Examination of the work of the Hutchins Commission and

the motivations behind formation of the commission bear

direct correlation to the efforts of community journalists.

There are many similarities between complaints that were

being made against the press of the 1940s and complaints

against the 1990s press. There are also similarities in the

93 M.A. Blanchard, "The Hutchins Commission, the Press and the
Responsibility Concept," Journalism Monographs (May 1997):

solutions offered by the Hutchins Commission and solutions

offered by proponents of community journalism.

There were complaints that the press was being taken

over by a few powerful owners, and, as a result, the common

citizen was being squeezed out, was being denied a voice in

the great cacophony of voices that was supposed to result in

the American melody. The complaints were important to Luce

because of his own concerns about preserving newsgathering

capabilities of the press, capabilities he thought vital to

the survival of a free society.94 There was also the

perception that the press was concentrating on the

sensational, on stories and events that would sell papers and

increase broadcast audiences.95 These are all problems voiced

by critics of the press in the year 2000. Community

journalism appears, in many ways, to echo Hutchins Commission


The Commission Is Formed

The commission was composed of thirteen members, all

chosen by University of Chicago president Robert M. Hutchins,

94 J.S. McIntyre, "Repositioning a Landmark: The Hutchins
Commission and Freedom of the Press," Critical Studies in
Mass Communication 4 (1987): 136-160.

95 Blanchard, Hutchins, 26.

most of them respected in the field of advanced education but

with no direct experience in the press, although several of

them had experience in dealing with the press.96 Luce had

chosen Hutchins because of Hutchins' reputation as a

thoughtful press critic. Time, Inc., contributed $200,000 in

financing. Encyclopedia Brittanica, Inc. contributed

$15,000. The money was disbursed through the University of

Chicago, giving neither Time nor Encyclopaedia Brittanica

control over or assumed responsibility for the study.

Commission members heard testimony from fifty-eight men

and women connected with the press. Robert Hutchins wrote in

a foreword to the report that becauseue of the present world

crisis," commission members had limited their study to "the

role of the agencies of mass communication in the education

of the people in public affairs." Staff members conducted

recorded interviews with more than 225 additional witnesses

from industry, government, and private agencies concerned

with the press. Staff and committee members prepared 176

documents for commission members to study. The commission

held seventeen two-day or three-day meetings.97 Their

96 McIntyre, Repositioning, 138-139.

97 The Hutchins Commission, A Free and Responsible Press
(Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1947), v-vi.

conclusions were put together by staff members, then perused

line-by-line by each member before the report was assembled

as a 137-page book and released on 26 March 1947.98

Chairman Robert Hutchins was an innovator at the

University of Chicago, where he was president. Hutchins had

a reputation for being critical of the press. He had

chastised the press for not meeting society' s needs and had

done it from the podium at a gathering of the American

Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE).99

Others on the commission included Zechariah Chafee, Jr.,

of Harvard, the leading scholar of the time on the free

speech provision of the First Amendment and the author of

Free Speech in the United States. John Clark had dealt with

the press in his several jobs in the Roosevelt

administration, including the position of consultant to the

National Recovery Administration and had also written the

final analysis on the NRA. Harold Laswell was director of

war communications research for the Library of Congress.

Several years later Laswell wrote the definition of

98 Blanchard, Hutchins, 24; Commission on Freedom of the
Press, A Free and Responsible Press: A General Report on Mass
Communication: Newspapers, Radio, Motion Pictures, Magazines,
and Books (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press 1947).

99 Blanchard, Hutchins, 12.

communication that has had such staying power: "Who says what

in which channel to whom with what effect."100 Poet Archibald

MacLeish was the Librarian of Congress and felt that the

press played an important role in the international relations

of a country. Robert Niebuhr, a professor of ethics at Union

Theological Seminary, had authored several articles on ethics

and morality. Beardsley Ruml had worked for government,

devising the pay-as-you-go income tax system for President

Franklin Delano Roosevelt and had come in frequent contact

with journalists. He said he liked journalists but had

realized, "They can do amazing things even to a hand-out,

unless you sit down with them and go over what you want to

say paragraph by paragraph."101

Luce and Hutchins had considered including members of

the press on the commission. They discussed inviting

columnist Walter Lippmann, advertising executive Chester

Bowles, and Federal Communications Commission Chairman

Lawrence Fly to participate. They decided, however, that

putting media representatives on the commission might limit

100 Ibid., 13.

101 Ibid., 15.

the commission' s independence. Those same media

representatives were later asked to testify.102

Press Reaction

In advance of the commission' s work, there was mixed

reaction from members of the press to the very fact that such

a commission had been formed. Some of the press, which in

the view of the commission included movies, newspapers,

magazines and radio, claimed to welcome such an undertaking,

claimed to be eager for suggestions on how to improve, and

even thought that the commission would be an ally in

preserving First Amendment press rights. For instance, an

Editor & Publisher editorial said, "Editor & Publisher

believes that the vigilance necessary to preserve the First

Amendment as the keystone of all democratic freedoms" would

be served by the work of the commission.103 According to

Blanchard, other members of the press slipped into paranoia

in the fear that the work of such a commission could lead to

press censorship and government control.104

102 McIntyre, Repositioning, 139.

103 "Research on Freedom," Editor and Publisher, 4 March 1966.

104 Blanchard, Hutchins, 4.

Even those who had lauded the idea of the commission in

the beginning changed their minds once they saw the report or

heard about it from other members of the press. For

instance, the Chicago Tribune's headline read, "A Free Press

(Hitler Style) Sought for U.S."105 Frank Hughes, who had

written the Tribune's story, in a book published three years

later attacked not only the report, but individual commission

members as well, calling Hutchins' philosophies fascist and

noting that Hutchins had held membership in groups with

Communist connections. Hughes wrote in his preface:

Early in the research, I discovered that I would have to
do what this so-called "commission," created by
Chancellor Robert M. Hutchins of the University of
Chicago and numbering some of the most prominent
professors in the higher learning in its company, did not
do--search for the truth. The study and research which
this entailed resulted in a reexamination of modern
political philosophy, as well as a gathering and
examination of the facts concerning the American
newspaper press today, which were available to the
"Commission on Freedom of the Press," but which it did
not choose to examine.106

On the other hand, a few papers did find merit in the

report. Philip Graham' s Washington Post was among them.

Graham' s newspaper said several of the commission' s

105 Frank Hughes, "The Professors and the Press," Chicago
Tribune, 27 April 1947, 22F.

106 Frank Hughes, Prejudice and the Press (New York: The
Devin-Adair Company, 1950), v.

recommendations had merit, and its premise that a responsible

press is necessary to freedom was well founded. The

Louisville Courier-Journal even said the report had not gone

far enough.107

Members of the media who had expressed fears about what

A Free and Responsible Press might contain felt they had been

vindicated when they saw the report. Statements that seemed

highly critical of the way the press was doing its job only

exacerbated press paranoia. One example:

The modern press itself is a new phenomenon. Its
typical unit is the great agency of mass communication.
These agencies can facilitate thought and discussion.
They can stifle it. They can advance the progress of
civilization or they can thwart it. They can debase and
vulgarize mankind. They can endanger the peace of the
world; they can do so accidentally, in a fit of absence
of mind. They can play up or down the news and its
significance, foster and feed emotions create
complacent fictions and blind spots, misuse the great
worlds, and uphold empty slogans. Their scope and power
are increasing every day as new instruments become
available to them. These instruments can spread lies
faster and farther than our forefathers dreamed when they
enshrined the freedom of the press in the First Amendment
to our Constitution.108

That statement is indicative of much of the tone of the

Hutchins Commission report, yet there are segments of the

report that indicate a willingness to let the press monitor

107 Blanchard, Hutchins, 45.

108 Hutchins Commission, 3.

itself. In an observation that appeared to have been taken

directly from John Stuart Mill, the report said:

It (society) must guarantee freedom of expression, to
the end that all adventitious hindrances to the flow of
ideas shall be removed. Moreover, a significant
innovation in the realm of ideas is likely to arouse
resistance. Valuable ideas may be put forth first in
forms that are crude, indefensible, or even dangerous.
They need the chance to develop through free criticism
as well as the chance to survive on the basis of their
ultimate worth. Hence the man who publishes ideas
requires special protection.109

Nonetheless, the report contained several statements

that appeared to be thinly veiled threats that government was

ready to step in to shape up the press. The commission said

it was preferable for the press to control itself. In other

words, to follow the commission' s recommendations, but if the

press wouldn't do it, the job would fall to government. The

commission report said, "It becomes an imperative question

whether the performance of the press can any longer be left

the unregulated initiative of the few who manage it."110

Some of the commission' s criticisms sound like they were

taken from the 1990s. The report said news media were trying

to attract the maximum audience by letting stories of night-

club murders, race riots, strike violence, and quarrels among

109 Ibid., 6.

110 Ibid., 16.

public officials crowd out the news of many of the activities

that had a much deeper affect on the majority of U.S. media

consumers. Newspaper columnists and radio commentators were

particularly reproachable as they supplied to the public what

amounted to "keyhole gossip, rumor, character assassination

and lies."111

The commission had an apparent particular dislike for

the trend toward ownership of more and more media outlets by

fewer and fewer individuals, saying that not only were there

economic forces at work, but personal forces. Commission

members wrote, "These forces are those exaggerated drives for

power and profit which have tended to restrict competition

and to promote monopoly through the private enterprise

system."112 The real danger, thought commission members, was

that those individuals were failing to allow opinions that

disagreed with their own to reach the public.

Commission Goals

As it laid out thirteen steps to be taken by government,

public, and press, the commission expressed the hope that its

recommendations would lead to the achievement of "five ideal

111 Ibid., 57.

112 Ibid., 48.

demands" or "requirements" that amounted to the commission's

goals for the press. Those requirements were as follows:

1. A truthful, comprehensive and intelligent account of

the day' s events in a context which gives them meaning;

2. A forum for the exchange of comment and criticism;

3. The projection of a representative picture of the

constituent groups in society;

4. The presentation and clarification of the goals and

values of the society;

5. Full access to the day's intelligence.113

The thirteen steps in achieving these five goals placed

equal responsibility on government, press, and public.

Recommendations to Government

It was to be the job of government to guide behaviors of

the press but not to dictate those behaviors. The commission

recommended the following:

1. That "constitutional guarantees of freedom of the

press be recognized as including the radio and motion

pictures."114 This would not mean, however, that the FCC

could not deny a license on the grounds that the applicant

113 Ibid., 21-29.

114 Ibid., 82.

was unprepared to serve the public interest, convenience, and

necessity, the commission said.

2. That the "government facilitate new ventures in the

communications industry, that it foster the introduction of

new techniques, that it maintain competition among large

units through the antitrust laws, but that those laws be used

sparingly to break up such units and that, where

concentration is necessary in communications, the government

endeavor to see to it that the public gets the benefit of

such concentration."115

By that last phrase commission members meant that a

network, for instance, should strive to take on affiliates

even in the smallest market, although that market might not

be large enough to be profitable. The commission stated that

these measures could be achieved either by the industry

acting responsibly, or by the government. Commission members

made it clear that industry action was preferable, but the

threat of government action was implicit. There is no

indication why this recommendation was placed in the

government section, rather than in the press section.

115 Ibid., 83.

3. That "as an alternative to existing remedies for

libel, legislation by which the injured party might obtain a

retraction or restatement of the facts by the offender or an

opportunity for the offended to reply."116

4. "[ T] he repeal of legislation prohibiting expressions

in favor of revolutionary changes in U.S. institutions where

there is no clear and present danger that violence will

result from the expressions." The commission referred to the

Alien Registration Act of 1940, the Smith Act, which made it

a crime to advocate the violent overthrow of the Government

or to belong to an organization that did.

5. "[T]hat the government, through the media of mass

communication, inform the public of the facts with respect to

its policies and of the purposes underlying those policies

and that, to the extent that private agencies of mass

communication are unable or unwilling to supply such media to

the government, the government itself may employ media of its

own."117 This media use by the government also was to extend

to disseminating information about the U.S. government in

other countries.

116 Ibid., 86.

117 Ibid., 88.

Recommendations to the Press

The commission expressed the hope that the press would

take these measures so government would not be forced to act.

It made five recommendations on self-governing measures to

the press.

1. All "agencies of mass communication should accept

the responsibilities of common carriers of information and

discussion" and should present ideas other than their own.118

2. "Agencies of mass communication should assume the

responsibility of financing new, experimental activities in

their fields."119 The commission said it was talking about

things of high literary, artistic or intellectual activity,

although commissioners did not say specifically what sorts of

activities they had in mind.

3. The commission recommended "that the members of the

press engage in vigorous mutual criticism."120

4. Commission members recommended "that the press use

every means that" could "be devised to increase competence,

independence and effectiveness of its staff."121 Better pay,

118 Ibid., 92.

119 Ibid., 93.

120 Ibid., 94.

121 Ibid., 94.

better contracts, better individual recognition were among

those means.

5. Commission members advised "that the radio industry

take control of its own industry" and treat advertising the

way "the best newspapers" were treating advertisers.122 That

is, broadcasters should not continue to interweave commercial

messages into their programs. They should clearly separate

advertising and programming, similar to the way newspapers

were separating advertising and news content. "The public

should not be forced to continue to take its radio fare from

the manufacturers of soap, cosmetics, cigarettes, soft

drinks, and packaged foods."123

Recommendations to the Public

The report warned that members of the public had failed

to realize that a communications revolution had occurred and

did not appreciate "the tremendous power which the new

instruments and the new organization place in the hands of a

few men." Nor had the public come to realize how far the

performance of the press fell short of the requirements of a

free society. It was up to the public, said the commission,

122 Ibid., 95.

123 Ibid., 95-96.

to hold the press accountable. There were three

recommendations for the public.

1. The commission recommended "that nonprofit

institutions help supply the variety, quantity and quality of

press service required by the American people."124 In other

words, religious and educational organizations could make

good documentary movies. It was necessary to do this

immediately, rather than waiting for the schools to educate

people going into the media to do it, because the world was

"on the brink of suicide" and had to be educated without


2. The commission also recommended "the creation of

academic-professional centers of advanced study, research and

publication in the field of communications," giving

journalism students the broadest of educations.125 The

commission's remarks about journalism education were not

complimentary; the commission had said journalism schools

were doing little more than vocational training, and not a

very good job of that.126

124 Ibid., 97.

125 Ibid., 99.

126 Ibid., 78.

3. The commission wanted a "new and independent agency"

to report annually on the performance of the press.127

Citizens' Commission

The commission again and again came back to the idea of

a citizens' commission to act as a watchdog on the press. It

was this idea upon which success of all the other

recommendations seemed to rest.128 So much so that Hutchins

at one point became so weary of hearing the recommendation

that he said, "Does it at all disturb the commission that we

seem to come back again and again to one recommendation only?

Our single remedy for all ills is a continuing non-

governmental commission; I cannot recall at the moment any

other recommendation that the commission is prepared to


Nonetheless, the recommendation was made and at the

final discussion of organizing a citizens' commission, Chafee

commented, "If the seed falls on fertile ground it will

127 Ibid., 100.

128 Hutchins Report, 100-102.

129 Jerilyn S. McIntyre, "The Hutchins Commission's Search for
a Moral Framework," Journalism History 6, 2 (Summer, 1979):

sprout. If it doesn't, it won't sprout anyway."130 The

commission was reluctant to get involved in starting such a

group because commission members didn' t want their efforts

misinterpreted as a desire to take a continuing role in

watching over the media.131 "The seed" (the recommendation

for a citizens' commission) did not fall on fertile ground,

and many years later when newspaper editors and publishers,

educators, and public figures were polled on press

responsibility, there was still a wide gap in attitudes

toward criticism of the press.132 Although public figures and

educators expressed general approval of outside criticism of

the press, editors and publishers were still generally

against the idea.

The report came at an already stressful time for the

press: ASNE and press association chiefs were working for a

free press guarantee by the United Nations, and negative

comments about U.S. media were not expected to help the

cause; conservative publishers were trying to overturn a

130 Ibid., 56.

131 Ibid., 56.

132 B. Hartung, "Attitudes Toward the Applicability of the
Hutchins Report on Press Responsibility," Journalism
Quarterly 58(3) (Fall, 1981): 428-433.

Supreme Court decision in the Associated Press antitrust

suit; and college journalism professors were pushing for some

sort of accreditation system, but the commission's tone led

some to fear that accreditation might be a step toward


Effects of the Report

There were sharp criticisms from the press of the

commission' s work, criticisms that too much money had been

spent ($215,000), that the work had been done behind closed

doors, that there were no members of the press on the

commission, that there had been very little in the way of

systematic research, and that there were some factual errors

in the report.

Nonetheless, publication of A Free and Responsible Press

was followed in the next few years by several attempts at

self-criticism by the press. These attempts were apparently

direct results of the Hutchins Commission report.134 The

American Press Institute was created (actually just before

the formal report was issued) with a stated goal of the

improvement of American newspapers. The first issue of

133 Blanchard, Hutchins, 31.

134 Ibid., 47.

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