Principles of American Journalism
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Principles of American Journalism

An Introduction

Stephanie Craft, Charles N. Davis

  1. 218 pages
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eBook - ePub

Principles of American Journalism

An Introduction

Stephanie Craft, Charles N. Davis

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About This Book

Designed to engage, inspire, and challenge students while laying out the fundamentals of the craft, this textbook introduces readers to the core values of journalism and its singular role in a democracy.

From the First Amendment to Facebook, this popular textbook – now in its third edition – provides a comprehensive exploration of the guiding principles of journalism and what makes it unique. Authors Stephanie Craft and Charles Davis cover the profession's ethical and legal foundations, its historical and modern precepts, the economic landscape of journalism, the relationships among journalism and other social institutions, and the key issues and challenges that contemporary journalists face. They also discuss the current ambiguities and transitions – economic and technological – occurring in the field, from nonprofit news sites to social media's effects on journalism.

Filled with relevant case studies, exercises, and discussion questions that encourage critical thinking about journalism and its role in society, this book helps students become better-informed media consumers as well as more mindful practitioners of journalism.

The companion website features chapter-by-chapter flashcards, quizzes, and annotated weblinks for students and a separate instructor resource section that features sample test questions, PowerPoint slides, sample syllabi, and chapter-by-chapter activities and discussion questions.

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A book is a collective effort reflecting the labor of many people. We’d be remiss if we failed to recognize the many fine colleagues, friends and former students who have added their expertise to the book through the many sidebar features you’ll read. They add a depth and breadth to the text, as well as a fresh new voice.
Special thanks to Dr. Carrie Brown, director of the social journalism program at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York, who wrote the bulk of Chapter 3. Many thanks also to Morten Stinus Kristensen for his excellent work developing discussion questions and activities to enhance the book’s value as a teaching tool.
We also would like to thank the thousands of students who marched in and out of Principles of American Journalism in the 13 years we taught at Missouri. To say that we could not have done it without you all is trite, maybe, yet so true. Your feedback, your questions in class, your responses to the discussions we’ve had, are all reflected in this book. Likewise, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to the many wonderful graduate students who worked with us at Missouri. Many appear in these pages as contributors to the sidebars, but many, many others played a role in this book through discussions, comments and occasional cajoling. We thank you all.
Our thanks to Emma Sherriff and all the fine editors at Taylor & Francis, whose patience and good humor made the process easy.
And finally, our families and friends and colleagues, who have made countless adjustments to their own lives so we could get this book written and now revised. As for the Davis side of the writing partnership: thanks to my dear wife Julie, and my kids, Charlie and Mamie Davis – your father does nothing without you in mind. And from the Craft side, heartfelt thanks to my husband, Kevin, for his encouragement and good humor.


The Mirror, the Watchdog and the Marketplace
  • ▸ Develop an understanding of the essential role journalism plays in democracy
  • ▸ Explore the specific functions the press performs to fulfill democratic needs
  • ▸ Consider the factors that influence whether and how well journalism can perform those functions
“There are crooks everywhere you look now. The situation is desperate.”
And so ended the last entry of Daphne Caruana Galizia’s blog, Running Commentary. Within the hour, Caruana Galizia, a Maltese journalist and anti-corruption crusader on the trail of politicians involved in money laundering, would die in a car bombing near her home.
The October 2017 bombing finally accomplished what years of death threats, arson attacks, arrests and libel suits had failed to do – silence Caruana Galizia. It did not, however, end her work. A coalition of 45 journalists from 15 countries formed The Daphne Project to complete her investigation into corruption by Maltese politicians, including the country’s prime minister and his wife, and to track down her murderers. The group’s motto: “They killed the journalist. Not the stories.”
Those stories are significant, to say the least. Here’s The Guardian summarizing where things stood in the immediate aftermath of Caruana Galizia’s murder:
In Malta, the prime minister, Joseph Muscat, and his party stand accused of allowing corruption to go unpunished, of weakening the police and the judiciary, of allowing an environment in which her killing became possible.
But it goes deeper than that. The European Union must now decide how to deal with its smallest member state – an island that appears to have become a magnet for criminals and kleptocrats, and that some MEPs [Members of the European Parliament] fear has become a gateway for dirty money into the rest of the continent, including the UK.
(April 17, 2018)
Caruana Galizia’s work laid the foundation for the later publication of the so-called Panama Papers, a trove of 11.5 million leaked documents revealing how an extensive system of offshore companies was used for illegal and unethical purposes around the world.
Several people have been arrested in connection with her death, though many were later released and no trial date has been set for the rest. As of 2020, no one had been tried or held officially accountable for her death. In late 2019, Malta’s opposition leader, Adrian Delia, offered a blunt assessment of the situation in an interview with CNN: “The Prime Minister and ministers were at the very least fully aware of what was going… They are at the very least guilty of allowing a situation to precipitate to a stage where a journalist was assassinated to shut her up for good.”
So, why, you may be wondering, did Caruana Galizia keep writing in the face of such dire threats? Why do the journalists of The Daphne Project feel compelled to finish her work? One answer is simple: The stories are important. Beyond the particulars of those stories, though, the Daphne Project journalists persisted in uncovering uncomfortable truths because of a widely shared understanding of what democracy requires of journalism, and of the kind of freedom necessary for journalism to do what democracy requires. Whether in Malta or the American Midwest, the idea that democracy and journalism are somehow intertwined is both familiar and potent, with the press, public and government all playing a part in making democratic life work.

▶ The Historical Backdrop

In America, that widely shared understanding has its roots in American colonial experience and the subsequent revolution, particularly in the background and mindsets of the group of men who would become the framers of the U.S. Constitution. The colonists’ reasons for revolt largely centered on what was considered to be the tyranny – economic and political – of their British rulers. An ocean away from the Crown, the colonies wanted to shake off the inequity of taxation without representation and the indignity of being forced, after a long period in which the government practiced a “hands-off” policy toward them and they began to develop a distinct, “American” identity, to re-submit to British authority. (We are skipping over a ton of really interesting history here in the name of brevity. Promise us you’ll read up on press history on your own.) But once they managed to successfully break free, they would still need to come up with a system of government to manage their affairs. What would it look like? Something completely different.
FIGURE 1.1 A memorial to murdered journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, killed after exposing corruption in Malta
Source: Paul Mendoza /
In addition to their personal experiences as colonists, the framers of the U.S. Constitution also were steeped in Enlightenment philosophy, particularly that of John Locke, which emphasized the power and authority of individual reason over other – arbitrary – sources of authority, such as the state or the monarchical divine rights of kings. In very over-simplified terms, this emphasis assumes that individuals are free to exercise reason and that reason is the source of truth. Perhaps you can begin to see where all this is heading: A basic idea that people, exercising reason, are best equipped to govern themselves, to make sense of the competing “truths” in the marketplace of ideas, and the related conclusion that government power must be harnessed in the service of the people, not the other way around. It’s worth underscoring for a moment just how radical a notion this once was, how completely transformative a reversal from a world filled at the time with variations of autocracy.
DEMOCRACY: A system of government in which the people govern themselves. Typically characterized by free elections in which every adult can participate, freedom of expression, and an independent judiciary, this kind of self-governance stands in contrast to monarchies, dictatorships, theocracies and other forms in which an unelected person or small group of people hold power.
So, how might a free press assist in that self-governance? By acting as a check on government power and by creating a space in which claims about truth could be debated. This notion of the press contradicts a tenet of English common law during colonial times that sounds, well, tyrannical. It’s called “seditious libel.” A libel is a statement that harms someone’s reputation. The “seditious” part refers to a libel about government authority. In England, this was a crime punishable by life imprisonment.
It gets better. (Or worse.)
“The greater the truth, the greater the libel.” This feature of the law essentially said that the truth of whatever libelous thing you dared to say against the government didn’t matter. In fact, the more true the criticism, the bigger trouble you would be in for voicing it. Imagine what a law like that can do to the marketplace of ideas. Shut it down altogether, that’s what. That’s essentially what criminal libel laws like those in Malta were designed to do: Make the airing of truth by brave souls like Caruana Galizia – who had 48 libel suits pending against her at the time of her death – too uncomfortable, too dangerous to consider. Indeed, Caruana Galizia was concerned about the effects such intimidation might have on the public. As NPR reported on July 22, 2018:
Just days before her murder, Caruana Galizia told a Council of Europe researcher that she worried how the abuse she faced would affect other whistleblowers.
“My biggest concern is that because people see what’s happened to me, they don’t want to do it,” she said. “People are afraid of consequences.”
When the framers turned their attention to drafting the founding documents of the United States, they saw vestiges of English law such as seditious libel to be contrary to what their experiment in democratic government would require. Not only did it violate Enlightenment notions of reason, but it also ran contrary to more practical concerns about how to check tyranny and discuss and debate public affairs. Seditious libel, sadly, crops up again and again in American history, typically during times of war. You can take some comfort in the fact that it has been repeatedly beaten back. (And criminal libel laws were, thankfully, abolished the year after Caruana Galizia’s murder.)
Among those founding documents is the Bill of Rights, drafted by James Madison, which declares freedom of speech and of the press to be basic rights. The need – or lack of need – for a document to enumerate such basic rights was the topic of much debate. In fact, some colonists didn’t want to ratify the U.S. Constitution without such a list. Nevertheless, if a list were to be drawn up, certainly freedom of expression would have to be on it. As Madison later wrote, “A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both.”
(You’ll learn much more about the First Amendment in Chapter 7.)
In his overview of the twists and turns the discussion about the Bill of Rights took, scholar Rodney Smolla gives us a sense of the magnitude of the framers’ accomplishments:
America had, for the first time in world history, put the people before the state… In the Declaration of Independence and the grandiloquent opening of the Preamble to the Constitution, in which “We the People” asserted their ultimate authority, America reversed the flow of power.
(1992, p. 39)

▶ What Democracy Needs from Journalism

Now that we’ve got some background into why a free press is so intertwined with democracy, we will delve more deeply into just what, specifically, the press can or ought to do to support democratic governance. Believe it or not, a 21st-century Sri Lankan newspaper editor is going to help us make sense of what those 18th-century American revolutionaries were thinking.
Lasantha Wickrematunge faced beatings, intimidation and, ultimately, death for his newspaper’s coverage of government corruption in Sri Lanka. In an editorial he wrote anticipating his assassination in 2009 and published three days after his death, Wickrematunge offers a compelling description of his role as a journalist and the role of a free press in society:
The free media serve as a mirror in which the public can see itself sans mascara and styling gel. From us you learn the state of your nation, and especially its management by the people you elected to give your children a better future. Sometimes the image you see in that mirror is not a pleasant one. But while you may grumble in the privacy of your armchair, the journalists who hold the mirror up to you do so publicly and at great risk to themselves. That is our calling, and we do not shirk it… We have espoused unpopular causes, stood up for those too feeble to stand up for themselves, locked horns with the high and mighty so swollen with power that they have forgotten their roots, exposed corruption and the waste of your hard-earned tax rupees, and made su...

Table of contents

Citation styles for Principles of American Journalism

APA 6 Citation

Craft, S., & Davis, C. (2021). Principles of American Journalism (3rd ed.). Taylor and Francis. Retrieved from (Original work published 2021)

Chicago Citation

Craft, Stephanie, and Charles Davis. (2021) 2021. Principles of American Journalism. 3rd ed. Taylor and Francis.

Harvard Citation

Craft, S. and Davis, C. (2021) Principles of American Journalism. 3rd edn. Taylor and Francis. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Craft, Stephanie, and Charles Davis. Principles of American Journalism. 3rd ed. Taylor and Francis, 2021. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.