At a time when diplomacy weighs so heavily in the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), it might at first seem premature to argue that a vigorously free, competent and responsible press deserves a truly central place on the public agenda on both sides of the Green Line. Yet in the closing decade of the 20th century, few linkages appear more frequently or urgently in political dialogue of the post-Cold War era than the dependence of democracy on a free and capable press.
That's true whether the press system in question is part of the world's oldest constitutional democracy (the USA), plagued by rising levels of press sensationalism;1 or post-World War II democracy such as Israel, anguished over journalistic credibility and governmental intrusiveness into publishing and public broadcasting;2 or an occupied land and ancient culture such as Palestine, where the seeds of press freedom are young and governmental constraints on journalists can be severe.3
These three significantly different contexts of news media development do not exhaust the range of possibilities. Thus, history, culture, and economics combine to put the journalism/democracy equation to work in distinctive ways in newly emerging free-press systems in Eastern and Central Europe, South Africa, Asia and Latin America.4
This article puts forward three arguments. First, that the relationship between journalism and democracy needs more explicit attention across the spectrum of press systems, whether they be developing, highly developed, or those in mid-passage; second, that not only journalists but citizens and future policy-makers need a richer understanding of the free press/democracy dynamic; and third, that colleges and universities, if they are non-partisan anchors of a free society, are a good place to begin this education effort. They can do so by teaching future journalists, by applied research, and by outreach activities to print electronic news media. They also can work with non-profit, non-governmental organizations to create knowledge relevant to public policy-making and honest government administration.5

Journalism's Grave Problems

As the millennium approaches, American journalism - although widely admired for its freedom and vitality - is facing serious problems. There is increasing complexity in public affairs requiring higher levels of journalistic skills and competence. Increasing international economic competition accentuates an already lagging American ability in languages and cross-cultural knowledge. Government bureaucrats seem to be perfecting their pernicious habit of "disinformation" and manipulation of news. So pervasive is this practice that journalists must find new reporting and freedom-of-information strategies. Increased competition between media heightens an already acute problem of excessive commercialism. That bottom-line mentality has alienated many working journalists. The perceived credibility of the news media among citizens continues to decline, necessitating a careful rethinking of how journalists think and report about public life.
In response, my faculty colleagues at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, the oldest such school in the USA (founded in 1908), began rethinking the school's undergraduate curriculum. In essence, the current problems facing journalists create a more demanding context for the practice of the craft. They also have a major bearing on the kind of capstone educational experience that we, at Missouri, want our news-editorial majors to have.
A new Journalism and Democracy course, taught to graduating seniors, will try to link critical thinking skills more closely to the practice of journalism at the higher levels of performance that society and the craft are beginning to require. The titles of the course's weekly topics suggest the kind of experience we believe can help provide that link:
1. Journalism as Craft, Business and Democratic Practice; 2. The First Amendment and the Uses of Freedom; 3. Journalism and Public Knowledge; 4. Democracy, Journalistic Performance, and the Impact of the News Media; 5. Democracy and the Changing Economics of Mass Communication; 6. Democratic Journalism and New Media Technology; 7. Pragmatic Liberalism and the Critical Tradition in Journalism; 8. The News Media and the Citizenry in the Policy-Making Process; 9. Cultivating Ethical Decision Making in the Newsroom; 10. The Journalist and Privacy; 11. Individualism, Commitment, and Community; and 12. Journalism, Democracy and the Planet.

Journalism as a Democratic Practice

In keeping with the Missouri tradition of integrating practical skills instruction with a liberal arts education, students in Journalism and Democracy will be asked to respond to these new challenges to the news media by completing one of four research/action projects. They can: 1. write an article of media criticism assessing coverage of a key public affairs story; 2. design and write an extended case study of an episode in journalism ethics; 3. write a reflective essay on democratic journalism for a specific professional magazine or scholarly journal; 4. propose, explain and justify an investigative series of public affairs documentary, or a new management practice, or an applied research project.
Each of the options must be done with a particular news media outlet or publication in mind and must be clearly related to the theme of the course - journalism and democracy. When possible, the students will be encouraged to place their work in the daily community newspaper, public radio, or commercial TV station affiliated with the Missouri journalism school.
In these assignments, special emphasis will be placed on what social scientists and editors have learned about how citizens assimilate the news and the ways reporting can be more useful to readers, viewers, and listeners. They also will be exposed to investigative reporters and database editors with backgrounds in in-depth reporting and powerful computer search techniques. Emphasis will be placed on the relevance of such skills to journalism as a democratic practice.
However critical citizens are of the news media, the more conscientious of them, nonetheless, depend on journalists for the information they need to pass judgment on elected officials and public policies. Thus, knowing the strengths, weaknesses and potential of news media is critically important to the exercise of intelligent civic judgment. Not least, citizens need guidance in the significant role they can play in giving both critical and supportive feedback to news media organizations. A Journalism and Democracy course - adapted for non-journalism majors - could be an important contribution as well in the post-secondary education of many students. With such a course, future policy-makers might also enter their careers better equipped to contribute to a healthy relationship between press and public officials.
Missouri's capstone course includes a module on what we call "cross-cultural journalism." To stress its importance, the Missouri school, in fact, has adopted a separate course under that title. It is a required one, which all students must take. The Cross-Cultural Journalism course explores the challenges of working, as a professional, with those who come from a different background - ethnic, religious, nationality, age, gender, sexual orientation - than our own. The last third of the course is devoted specifically to the importance of, and approaches to, covering people from other countries. This section emphasizes how linguistic, social and other barriers can distort one's understanding of, and reporting from, cultures different from one's own and how some of those obstacles can be overcome.

Journalism in a 'Shrinking Planet'

Journalism and Democracy is a theme that also could well be useful in stimulating the kind of critical international dialogue among journalism and mass communication educators that the "shrinking planet," so widely acknowledged, would seem to require. It would be a natural at the conventions of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, the European Journalists Association, the International Association for Mass Communication Research, and the International Communications Association.
Another way to prepare for democracy is to build the skills of working journalists. Already, journalism programs within the Palestinian National Authority are gaining assistance available from sister overseas outreach organizations. The Journalism Diploma Program at Bir Zeit University has tapped the Swedish International Development Agency and Bertelesman, the German book publisher.6 It also has just completed a three-year working relationship with the University of Missouri School of Journalism in which Missouri faculty visited and worked at the journalism program in Ramallah. At Al-Quds University, its president, Dr. Sari Nusseibeh, is encouraging development of the Institute of Modern Media, whose director, Daoud Kuttab, an active journalist, teaches as he develops children's and public affairs programs for Palestinian educational TV.
High-quality, non-partisan outreach by local universities is especially important in lands such as Palestine. Although now struggling economically, many Palestinians are highly educated and quite capable of both innovation and effective leadership. However, the middle class in Palestine is smaller than needed in a democracy. Disparities in wealth are painfully wide, and educational initiatives are needed to expand opportunities for the young people who are the future source of stability, creativity and civic energy.7
In fact, democracies large and small, young and old, require journalists who understand such critical public needs and are committed to reporting them in ways that help the public and policy-makers act wisely. For, as political scientists have long noted, no democracy is more than one generation away from extinction.


1. See, for example, Leo Bogart, Commercial Culture, the Media System and the Public Interest (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995); Jules Witcover, "Where We Went Wrong," Columbia Journalism Review, March/April 1998, pp. 19-28; and Florence George Graves, "Is Ken Starr Undermining the First Amendment?" American Journalism Review, April 1998, pp. 18-29.
2. Ze'ev Schiff, "The Censorship Conundrum," Ha'aretz English Edition, May 17, 1998, p. 6; "Journalistic Credibility," The Jerusalem Post, May 28, 1998, p. 6; and "Fear and Reckoning at the IBA," Ha'aretz English Edition, May 28, 1998, p. 6.
3. See Judith Miller, "At Palestinian Papers, Money Is As Elusive As Freedom," The New York Times, July 28, 1997, p. D-1, 7; and Imad Musa, "The Palestinian Press since Autonomy: New Era or More of the Same? A Status Report, 1994-1996," unpublished mass media seminar research paper, University of Missouri School of Journalism, Dec. 10, 1996.
4. See John Merrill, editor, Global Journalism, Survey of International Communications, 3rd edition (New York: Longman, 1995), especially, Owen V. Johnson, Chapter 10, East Central and Southeastern Europe, Russia and the Newly Independent States, pp. 153-187; Arnold S. de Beer, Francis P. Kasoma, Eronini R. Megwa, and Elaine Steyn, Chapter 12, Sub-Saharan Africa, pp. 209-268; Anju Grovery Chaudhary and Anne Cooper Chen, Chapter 13, Asia and the Pacific, pp. 269-328; and, Gonzalo Soruco and Leonard Ferreira, Chapter 14, Latin America and the Caribbean, pp. 329-354.
5. The special role and need for the expertise of universities is evident in such books as Anne Wells Branscomb Who Owns Information? From Privacy to Public Access (New York: HarperCollins, 1994); Leonard R. Sussman, Power, the Press and the Technology of Freedom (New York: Freedom House, 1989); Slavko Slichal and Janet Wasko, Communication and Democracy (Norwood, N.J.: Ablex, 1993); and Doris A. Graber, Mass Media and American Politics (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Press).
6. Peter Dickie and Suzanne Ruggi, "Aiming for a Quality Palestinian Press," The Jerusalem Times, Jan. 17, 1997, p. 7.
7. For alternative perspectives on the future of democracy in Palestine, see Foreign Affairs, July/August 1994, with articles by William B. Quandt, Amos Perlmutter and Shlomo Avineri, pp. 2-12.