What is journalism?

What is journalism?
: Getting ready for BloggerCon (and a drink with Jay Rosen later today), I reread Jay’s essay setting the table for the session that asks, “What is journalism?” I recommend it highly.

By “journalism” we ought to mean the practice of it, not the profession of it. Journalism can happen on any platform. It is independent of its many delivery devices. This also means that journalism is not the same thing–at all–as “the media.” The media, or Big Media as some call it, does not own journalism, and cannot dispose of it on a whim….

But what most identifies the practice of journalism is not power, profit, or free expression in itself. It’s the idea of addressing, engaging and freely informing a “public” about events in its world.

The discussion that ensues is amazing and has built into a freeze-dried conference round-table (at which everyone actually has a chance to say something). It’s even longer than a Rosen post but I recommend it; worth the time.

: I couldn’t help joining in the conversation and added this:

I come at this with three abstract questions:

1. What is the relationship of journalism to its public now?

That relationship has radically changed thanks to the links of the Web. We can link to news stories; they can (but still don’t) link to us; we can link to sources; we can link to opinions; the linking can add up to better information. The links turn news into a conversation. And as a result, the relationship of “journalist” to “public” when the become, often, one and the same.

Similarly, the relationships of “news source” and “journalist” and “public” and “citizen” are quite the game of 52-card pickup. Those in power can now speak to their publics bypassing the press. But shouldn’t citizens also be able to address those in power just as journalists have? It’s about accredidation: Who has the right to sit in the White House and question the President on behalf of all of us? Who has the right to get in the mayor’s face and ask what happened to our money? Who has the right to stop us?

2. What are the standards of journalism (if any)?

Oh, gawd, I don’t want to end up with a debate on journalistic objectivity or white-glove pickiness either. But I’m not sure old, assumed (and often unwritten) standards are valid anymore. So perhaps it’s better to ask what the standards (if any) should be. Do we need standards? Is that what the “professional” journalists are best equipped to share with the “citizen” journalists? Or, instead, should journalists share access (see #1) and tricks (e.g., Freedom of Information requests) and let the marketplace do what it will (and we, the readers will — as we already do — decide whom we do and don’t believe and trust). Credibility is the only standard that matters. Do we need standards to support that?

3. What are the expectations of journalism?

This is so closely related to #2 that it may be the same question. But I think that big media have lost sight of what its public wants of it. Evidence: the disparity between what ends up high on a Technorati or Blogdex list of buzzed-about topics vs. what lands on Page One of your paper. Evidence: The popularity of FoxNews in a country that was supposed to cherish objective journalism devoid of opinion. Evidence: Circulation and ratings. One of the most important lessons this new world imparts is that it captures what people actually care about instead of what the old, editorial “we” thought the old consumer “they” should care about. So what are the expectations of journalism today in any form? Reliability? Credibility? Honesty? Transparency? Frequency? Completeness? Links? Conversation? Opinion? Speed? What does our public want of us? Doesn’t that really define what the mission of journalism should be?

: UPDATE: The Christian Science Monitor says:

The past year has been the most miserable in the history of modern American journalism.

: And The Boston Globe says:

At a time when public distrust of the news media appears to be at a dangerously high level, there is evidence of a deep and fundamental disagreement between those who produce news and those who consume it.

Although most journalists believe quality and values are vital elements of their work and see themselves as providing an important civic function, the reading and viewing public seems to think of journalism as a bottom-line-driven enterprise populated by the ethically challenged.

: The Globe also says Hollywood is looking at the news business as a laughingstock [read: sitcom fodder.] [update links via IWantMedia]

  • Now there’s two guys I’d love to be having a drink (or drinks) with–Jarvis and Rosen. Maybe in a month or so.

  • I think lately what ratings capture is what people will react to, not necessarily what’s popular.
    Can anyone deny that blogs skyrocketed in popularity because people really like to bitch at other people without consequences (generally)?
    People will crane to watch a car wreck – but does it really inform? It isn’t useful except in the sense that it’s a bit of gossip to tell when you get home. But no one’s life is bettered.
    Good journalism better’s a life, it doesn’t just play to the lowest common denomimator to sell.
    You’re idea of journalism – to include the opinion-writers is different than mine. Not saying you couldn’t convince me – but I’d be kicking and screaming all the way.
    Standards? Well, if everyone’s an amateur than how do we really get to truth? How do we know who’s better at getting to the truth?
    Yes, standards.

  • Insufficiently Sensitive

    I’d accord journalists (and their Editors and Producers) some respect if they’d just present the WHOLE STORY. For now, the selective omissions are too blatant, and the jerks who call the present product ‘news’ should be tarred and feathered.

  • AST

    How about doing an essay called “Journalism is a warm puppy”? Sort of along the lines of the Pledge of Allegiance?