Reviewer James Broderick, Ph.D: James is an associate professor of English and journalism at New Jersey City University. A former newspaper reporter and editor, he is the author of six non-fiction books, and the novel Stalked. His latest book is Greatness Thrust Upon Them, a collection of interviews with Shakespearean actors across America. Follow Here To Listen To An Interview With James Broderick.
Author: Jim Pumarlo
Author: Jim Pumarlo
For more than a decade now, serious-minded journalistic pundits have been wringing their hands about the fate of the printed newspaper. Once a pervasive presence in most households, the newspaper has been a mostly reliable witness to human history for several centuries (the modern newspaper can claim a lineage dating back to the 1600s). The prospect of its disappearance has caused otherwise sober and sane individuals to erupt in paroxysms of anxiety and sheer melancholy.
Over the past couple of years, however, as it’s become clear that the battle appears to be a losing one and that print is – bow your heads, ye members of the Fourth Estate – rapidly morphing from fact to artifact, a new question has emerged. Will journalism itself survive?
It’s not an absurd question. With the rise of social media and the triumph of “info-tainment,” the continued dissemination of serious journalism is by no means assured. One continued lively spot in the moribund newspaper world has been the enduring appeal of “community news.” Not only is it true that all politics is local (as the adage goes), so, apparently, is journalism.
But will it remain so? Will the close ties between “community” newspapers and the communities they serve remain strong? Will the circulation of local newspapers continue to buck the trend of declining metro dailies? And will more and more young journalists learn their craft covering 4-H fairs, Founders’ Day parades, and zoning board hearings?
The future of community news is the preoccupying question of Jim Pumarlo’s Journalism Primer: A Guide to Community News Coverage for Beginning and Veteran Journalists in the Age of New Media. Like most news stories today, the book is short – barely 50 pages. In its six succinct sections, Pumarlo – a veteran of decades of community journalism – provides a set of notes to his fellow tradesmen and women. And by notes, I mean just that: the book is really just a set of very short (often a sentence or two) points about the practice of local reporting. The chapters consist of dozens of bold-faced sentences (“Tour the Town,” “Give Numbers Proper Context,” “Develop Citizen Columnists”) followed by a sentence or two of elaboration.
There is something to be said for brevity (Strunk and White owe their very reputations as writing gurus to brevity), and while Pumarlo’s points are right on target, I kept wondering who this book is really for. Any editor who has spent more than a year on the job will have already learned most of what Pumarlo is preaching, and anybody who is turning to this book to learn the craft will need much greater instruction and at least a few in-depth examples of the concepts he’s discussing. To my mind, the book reads like a list of bulleted points for a lecturer teaching a class on community journalism. As an outline of important concepts, it’s highly efficient. Perhaps that’s all the author intended. Yet given the breadth of advice he dispenses – and the importance of the field at this moment in history – such a breezy overview does little to advance his cause. (To cite just one of dozens of examples, his advice to “Think beyond the norm in generating story ideas” is elaborated by only two additional sentences, and then it’s on to another topic. This subject alone sustains several useful chapters in a journalism textbook I currently use in a college-level journalism course.)
Clearly, Pumarlo is not intending his text to be THE text for a journalism class, or even the last word in anyone’s journalism education. The man knows his community journalism, and there’s genuine value in having someone of his knowledge level distill several decades’ worth of experience into a handful of reminders. But at a time when journalism is coming under fire for dumbing down stories, or sacrificing depth for drama, this quick-and-breezy read made me wring my hands, longing for the day when attention spans could handle more than 140 characters of text before the reader – and writer – felt compelled to move on to something new.
Follow Here To Purchase Journalism Primer: A guide to community news coverage for beginning and veteran journalists in the age of new media