What is Journalism?

This past Friday, as I am often wont to do, I got into a discussion on Twitter with some of my fellow news media nerds (and I mean “nerds” in the most endearing of terms). This time it was me, @thefuturewasnow @kategadiner @ourmaninchicago @marcusist and @whet having a chat about what constitutes journalism. Is a blogger a journalist? Is there such a thing as a blog journalist? Is blogging simply a medium or something more?

It all started with this typically opinionated remark from yours truly.

In our brief exchanges, I can’t really say we came to any sort of consensus. It made me wonder though: what IS the “official” definition of journalism and does it still fit in today’s rapidly changing media landscape?

Merriam-Webster defines it thusly:

1 a: the collection and editing of news for presentation through the media b: the public press c: an academic study concerned with the collection and editing of news or the management of a news medium2 a: writing designed for publication in a newspaper or magazine b: writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation c: writing designed to appeal to current popular taste or public interest

The first part seems fairly unassailable, but the second is where it gets potentially complicated.

These days, when the public seems to have a voracious appetite for more and more slanted reporting, might there not be a discrepancy between recording only the facts and writing to appeal to current popular taste? And if so, is real journalism in danger of being subsumed by the shrill punditocracy that seems to dominate both airwaves and interwebs? Indeed, the only remaining pillar of objectivity seems to be print newspapers which are widely reported to be in dire straits.

And now it’s time for an unpleasant reality check. Taking all this into account, are media figures, including journalists, simply giving the people what they want?

6 Comments

  1. Daniel Honigman July 24, 2009

    Most bloggers want to be treated like media, but don’t want to be held to journalism standards. I believe that well-known and/or read bloggers should make their standards/ethics known. If a blogger engages in pay-for-play, make it known. I know for a fact that many bloggers lie about this.

  2. Anna Tarkov July 24, 2009

    I feel exactly the same way. In fact if I really start thinking about all this, I think it’s emblematic of a culture where, increasingly, people want all the benefits and none of the responsibility. I think the breakdown of cultural institutions, companies, the splintering of the media, etc greatly contributes to this. We are adrift in a very large sea.

    But back on topic… bloggers should absolutely over-disclose any possible conflicts of interest. The bottom line though is that most can’t be counted on to self-police. Yet more support for the argument that journalism should somehow remain a paid (even if not highly) paid profession where people are answerable for their words and actions.

  3. Anonymous July 24, 2009

    I’m a former journalist who left the profession about eight months ago. I am now a blogger. I see the two as mutually exclusive. Sure, I could keep calling myself a journalist; I certainly have the chops and the background. And I try to continue to write things I hope people are interested in.

    The difference, really, is that I recognize the much lower standard I’m held to. In all the conversations about how “everyone’s a publisher” and “we are all journalists now,” the most vocal advocates of those stances are bloggers who have never been journalists and have no idea what it really means.

    Don’t get me wrong. In many ways, I hate journalists. I hate the condescending attitudes of our newspapers. But the ideals are sound. How many bloggers follow the “three sources” rule? How many bloggers even know what a primary source is? How many of them get all of their information from other reports they’ve read online and merely regurgitate them? That’s not journalism.

    Do I think bloggers CAN be journalists? Yes. But, by and large, they are not. They are merely living the dream. And, too often, they take every bad habit, every corruption and every advantage of what journalism is and none of the virtue.

    I will caution you, however, against thinking that slanted reporting is reason to denounce someone as less than a journalist. Our modern take on journalism is only fairly recent…one need only check out newspaper archives of 50 years ago to see that many newspapers were filled with biased, first-person accounts. The difference is just that: They were first-person accounts — not stitched-together press releases or newspaper stories others wrote.

    I, for one, appreciate blatant bias in news reporting. At least then you know what you’re getting, rather than biased reporters hiding behind the guise of objectivity.

  4. Anna Tarkov July 24, 2009

    Very good point. One that I remember coming up at a conference. Most people these days have forgotten about the yellow journalism of decades past :-)

    My quarrel is not with slanted reporting per se, but with the possibility that the popularity of blogs (which are usually slanted) could cause real journalists to skimp on the objectivity as a popularity ploy. That’s what I hope doesn’t happen.

  5. Anonymous July 24, 2009

    I’m not as worried about them skimping on objectivity as I am about them skimping on facts and sources. And, too often, blogs (even super popular ones like TechCrunch) have whole stories based on one little comment from one source.

  6. Anna Tarkov July 24, 2009

    You should probably say ESPECIALLY super popular ones :-) Indeed, they’re nothing more than the equivalent of gossip columns.

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