Schaffer, a Pulitzer-winning reporter and former executive director
of the Pew Center on Civic Journalism, shared information and insights
about civic journalism with Elon School of Communications students
and faculty members April 24 in Whitley Auditorium.
journalism has imparted some tough love on some tough issues,"
she began, explaining that Pew's initiative put the spotlight on
a number of such efforts across the nation and trained 4,000 journalists,
and adding that J-Lab, where she now works, is archiving 800 of
the best civic journalism projects.
a decade at the Pew Center for Civic Journalism in Washington, D.C.,
overseeing an incubator of journalism projects that created new
ways of reporting aimed at keeping people engaged in public concerns.
When the funding for the Civic Journalism project expired, she moved
to J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism, a new center
at the University of Maryland's College of Journalism. J-Lab is
developing newsroom use of innovative technologies to involve and
inform people about vital issues - the emphasis remains on civic
journalists create a neutral zone of empowerment; civic journalism
advocates citizen engagement, not a particular outcome," Schaffer
explained. She said that civic journalism is an "overarching
set of values" that drive enlightened newsroom decision making.
It treats citizens as participants rather than victims or spectators,
recognizing that people are capable of doing something to solve
their own problems.
four major points about civic journalism: 1) It educates people
about issues; 2) It helps them make decisions. 3) It invites them
to engage in civic dialogue and action. 4) It enables them to exercise
their responsibilities in our democratic system.
Elon University's young communicators to think beyond the typical
government and business sources in seeking information for their
messages, "going out in the community to find deeper layers
of players - the catalysts and connectors who lead people and motivate
people despite their lack of a title."
responsible journalists should be seeking out "master narratives"
- adding that these are stories that can be missed in the daily
rush, but for communities they are far more important stories over
time. "You're trying to connect the dots," she urged,
"making sense of things for your community. Focus not so much
on the noise; focus on the silences, which means you have to have
a whole new set of listening skills ... seek out the things that
make people squirm." She used a series published by a newspaper
in Maine as an example. The project focused on the myriad ways alcohol
does damage to the people in Maine's communities.
addressed an area of civic journalism that is a particular focus
of J-Lab: interactive journalism. "In journalism, we concentrate
a lot on craftsmanship of a story or a layout," she said, adding
this is not enough. "We need to train young journalists to
build connections through entry points." New entry points for
news audiences include blogs, e-letters and interactive news-based
exercises or games that help people see the choices they face in
budget decisions, redistricting, selecting future energy sources
and so forth. "This interactive communication helps people
become involved and understand the choices they can make,"
are providing readers with online calculators to help them figure
out how much they might have to pay under a new tax plan; clickable
maps that explain development plans; video conferencing; webcams;
and simulations. "You involve people by showing and telling,
by giving people entry points for participation," Schaffer
said. "People are increasingly engaged in creating their own
stories. I would posit that future news is not so much about storytelling
as it is about storymaking. We can construct our own narrative.
News consumers can very much be co-producers of the news."
a former business editor and Pulitzer Prize winner for the Philadelphia
Inquirer. While working as a reporter covering the federal court
system in Philadelphia, she was a co-writer on a series of stories
that won freedom for a man wrongly convicted of five murders. The
series earned Schaffer and the Inquirer a number of national journalism
awards, including the 1978 Pulitzer Gold Medal for Public Service.
also the reporter to break the Abscam story about the FBI operation
utilizing agents posing as Arab sheiks. She was sentenced to six
months in jail at the time for refusing to reveal her sources; the
sentence was stayed on appeal, so she avoided doing jail time. As
business editor for the Inquirer, Schaffer directed the reporting
and editing of two investigative series that were named finalists
for the Pulitzer Prize, one on pharmaceutical pricing, and one on
abuses in the nation's non-profit sector.
involved in teaching and coaching in newsrooms around the country,
and in public speaking and writing. She is maried to a Washington
Post editor and has two young children.
The civic journalism
presentation was sponsored by Elon University and Project Pericles,
which encourages civic engagement. To find out more about Schaffer
and the projects with which she has worked, see the following web