Medill prof takes a look at the news biz

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Author Michele Weldon, an assistant professor at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism takes a fresh look at the changing face of newspapers in her latest book, Everyman News: The Changing American Front Page (University of Missouri Press, 280 pages, $39.95).

You might remember Weldon from a few years ago when she appeared on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," with her 1999 memoir, I Closed My Eyes: Revelations of a Battered Woman.

Michele Weldon
Michele Weldon at work. (Keith Hale~Sun-Times)

Here's a review of Everyman News:


This book isn’t just for news junkies.

It’s worth the effort to plow through for anyone interested in the role that the founding fathers assigned to the press, as they made their great experiment with government by the people to replace government by kings and aristocrats; Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would prefer newspapers without government to government without newspapers.

The plowing through does take some effort. The modest 164 pages of text are followed by another 115 of pie charts, notes and references.

Author Michele Weldon, who teaches journalism at Northwestern University, deals with American newspapers generally as well as with front pages, and notes new media that the founders could not have imagined. Her point: News increasingly gets told now through narratives, which are more striking and understandable than recitals of facts.

Everyman News

Rudyard Kipling, a successful newsman as well as novelist and poet, wrote: ‘‘I keep six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When And How and Where and Who.’’

The job of writers for American newspapers, in recent tradition, has been to jam as many answers as possible to those questions into the first paragraph of a story. It’s a style that can lead to the kind of writing that quickly turns a reader to the TV talk shows.

In what Weldon calls today’s ‘‘everyman’’ journalism, the effort to start with official sources summarizing the facts is giving way to narratives with striking color and the use of individuals as sources — preferably nonofficial individuals.

As a poet, Kipling could say a lot in four lines on a subject as complex as ethnically mixed love. In one well-known poem, ‘‘On the Road to Mandalay,’’ he describes that particular kind of earthquake as having struck a British soldier and a young Burmese woman whom the soldier saw at a Buddhist shrine. In the voice of the soldier, the poet says she was ’’... a-wastin’ Christian kisses on an ’eathen idol’s foot Bloomin’ idol made o’mud — Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd — Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed ’er where she stud!’’

That colorful narrative style can well attract more readers than a traditional news story that might begin:
MANDALAY, Burma — British Military Police today arrested a private of an East :London Regiment after he entered a Buddhist shrine and suddenly embraced a young woman worshipper. She apparently had made no resistance. Names were withheld pending investigation, according to a police spokesman under orders to remain anonymous.

Wheldon quotes approvingly a statement by the deans of five leading journalism schools in a manifesto on education of newspeople.

‘‘A well-functioning democracy depends on good journalism,’’ the statement says.

But her description of ‘‘everyman’’ stories breaks sharply with the aim of informing the voter on events in a way to help govern the country — government of the people, by and for the people, as Abraham Lincoln put it.

‘‘They are about a society leaning toward personal storytelling,’’ she writes, ‘‘away from a reliance on factoids and news bullets. The kind of story in abundance now is as much about our tolerance — and desire for — the nonfiltered ramblings on, as it is the expectation that the newspaper will speak to us as friend, not as civics instructor.’’


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This page contains a single entry by Teresa Budasi published on March 14, 2008 1:39 PM.

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