What the People Know: Freedom and the Press

Overview

The power and status of the press in America reached new heights after spectacular reporting triumphs in the segregated South, in Vietnam, and in Washington during the Watergate years. Then new technologies created instantaneous global reporting which left the government unable to control the flow of information to the nation. The press thus became a formidable rival in critical struggles to control what the people know and when they know it. But that was more power than the press could handle—and journalism ...

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Cambridge 1998 Trade Paperback Advanced Uncorrected Proof New Uncorrected Page Proof. 8vo. Cambridge: Harvard, 1998. Uncorrected proof. 8vo. Trade paperback, 142 pp. New.

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Overview

The power and status of the press in America reached new heights after spectacular reporting triumphs in the segregated South, in Vietnam, and in Washington during the Watergate years. Then new technologies created instantaneous global reporting which left the government unable to control the flow of information to the nation. The press thus became a formidable rival in critical struggles to control what the people know and when they know it. But that was more power than the press could handle—and journalism crashed toward new lows in public esteem and public purpose.

The dazzling new technologies, profit-driven owners, and celebrated editors, reporters, and broadcasters made it possible to bypass older values and standards of journalism. Journalists reveled in lusty pursuit after the power of politics, the profits of entertainment and trespass into privacy. Richard Reeves was there at the rise and at the fall, beginning as a small-town editor, becoming the chief political correspondent of the New York Times and then a best-selling author and award-winning documentary filmmaker. He tells the story of a tribe that lost its way. From the Pony Express to the Internet, he chronicles what happened to the press as America accelerated into uncertainty, arguing that to survive, the press must go back to doing what it was hired to do long ago: stand as outsiders watching government and politics on behalf of a free people busy with their own affairs.

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Editorial Reviews

Douglas Sylva
A....[H]e is really mourning the loss of a...life style filled with glamour, excitement and the heady freedom to follow a story wherever the truth leads.
New York Times Book Review
Mark Jurkowitz
What the People Know avoids the perils of droning pendantry. It is fast-moving and full of history and anecdotes...Reeves wisely spends much of his energy focusing on the kind of corporate corruption of journalism that has not really permeated the consciousness of an American public willing to beleive every conspiracy theory about the media except the most dangerous.
The Boston Globe
Steve Weinberg
Richrad Reeves is a respected veteran journalist who wants fellow journalists to concentrate on ferreting out the truth without fear or favor. That sounds like a mundane topic for a book. After all, what else would journalists be expected to do? But Reeves' What the People Know is anything but mundane because so many journalists either have no idea how to ferret out the truty, or seem to have forgotton that part of their job...[This book] -- part personal reminiscence, part media critique. . . [is] worthwhile [reading] for anybody who cares about Reeves's illustrious career or the state of journalism.
Christian Science Monitor
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Like many academics, University of Southern California professor Reeves feels that a lot of journalism has been "blood, fire, sports, sex, mixed with stories to make you feel good about yourself and bad about your government." But as an experienced reporter for the New York Times and the creator of award-winning TV documentaries, he still believes that journalists are crucial, irreplaceable contributors to a democratic society. His 12th book reconciles his skepticism and faith with vivid arguments of seasoned optimism. Reeves lauds both "Old Fartism" (journalistic integrity, hard work and the four Ws) and technological change (experimentation, speed and adaptation). Answering charges that journalists are becoming outdated, Reeves stresses their resilience and dedication, cites CNN's successes and even claims that "newspapers are better than they were pre-television." While people may "get the news" in revolutionary new ways, Reeves cares most about how news "is gathered and prepared for transmission." Reeves does fear journalists' profit motives, their incessant criticism of government and their ignorance of business. Why? Because "corporations own newspapers and television stations, government does not; corporations sue newspapers and television stations, government does not." Based on his 1997 Joanna Jackson Goldman Memorial Lecture at the Library of Congress, this book's anecdotal approach may not satisfy historians, but Reeves's seasoned, passionately optimistic treatise should inform and inspire both media consumers and journalists alike.
Library Journal
Journalist Reeves (President Kennedy: Profile of Power, LJ 9/15/93) has been chief political correspondent for the New York Times and an editor and columnist for New York magazine and Esquire. Although he once wrote critically of President Gerald Ford in A Ford, Not a Lincoln (LJ 12/15/75), years later he published a magazine article, "I Apologize, Mr. President," admitting that he had sold Ford short. We might listen, then, when he takes the high moral ground journalistically, arguing that after its spectacular successes reporting segregation, Vietnam, and Watergate, the press has become less of a watchdog and more willing to bare its fangs at politicians (who have become easy targets) while letting up on corporate conglomerates (who increasingly own newspapers and broadcasting companies and are more likely to bite back with lawsuits). Meanwhile, the press gives us the soft stories that we apparently want. In this short, gracefully argued book, Reeves offers convincing reasons for this decline and a plea for journalism to return to its roots. Strongly recommended for larger public and academic libraries.--Jim G. Burns, Ottumwa, IA
Douglas A. Sylva
...[H]e is really mourning the loss of a...life style filled with glamour, excitement and the heady freedom to follow a story wherever the truth leads.
The New York Times Book Review
Mark Jurkowitz
What the People Know avoids the perils of droning pendantry. It is fast-moving and full of history and anecdotes...Reeves wisely spends much of his energy focusing on the kind of corporate corruption of journalism that has not really permeated the consciousness of an American public willing to beleive every conspiracy theory about the media except the most dangerous.
The Boston Globe
Kirkus Reviews
Veteran journalist and author Reeves (Running in Place; President Kennedy) reports on the state of the press (print and television). He is guardedly pessimistic. Reporting the news was once a fairly simple and, for Reeves, exciting and honorable task: get the story, get it right, report it. Today, however, journalism "is in a crisis of change and redefinition." The reasons for this crisis are complex and interrelated. Technology, particularly the Internet, has made information instantaneously available to just about anyone. How do traditional media like newspapers compete? The answer has become to report on what the public wants; find out what attracts people and feed it back to them. And what the public wants increasingly is short, untroubling entertainment. So we get coverage of scandals, entertainers, health tips ("evening news without news"), while more important events go underreported. Between 1992 and 1996, for instance, network television reporting on foreign stories, measured in minutes, dropped by almost two-thirds. Exacerbating this move toward news-lite is the concentration of media ownership in the hands of a few huge corporations: Westinghouse, General Electric, etc. News operations are minuscule parts of such corporations, but they are not immune to the corporate demand for profits. How does news make a profit? Give the public what it wants. Finally, journalism itself is in part to blame for its own predicament. In its post-Watergate zealousness to portray all politicians as crooks and all politics as corrupt, it helped create a public mood of cynical lack of interest in public affairs. Despite these problems, all is not lost. Reeves sees acontinuing role for journalism, and that is simply to tell what "you and I need to keep our freedom—accurate timely information on laws and wars, police and politicians, taxes and toxics." Much of what Reeves says is familiar, and the pieces don't always hold together, but in the end he gets the story and gets it right. Nice reporting.
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Product Details

Meet the Author

Richard Reeves is the author of ten books, including President Kennedy: Profile of Power. He is a syndicated columnist and teaches at the University of Southern California.

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Table of Contents

Introduction

Covering the Naked Emperor

Technology Happens

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Buy 'Em

'The Tribe'

'Give Them What They Want!'

News as Entertainment

What's the Story?

Notes

Acknowledgments

Index

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