Sunday, November 8, 2009

Are Journalists Professionals?

If there is any service that is being greatly taken for granted, it is the service that journalists provide for citizens. Many belittle the service with attitudes and comments such as “this is so easy, even I could do it”.
The service is even more damaged by acts of people like Jayson Blair who rapidly climbed up the success ladder as a journalist by plagiarizing and fabricating stories. Too add the icing on the cake, his own editors, who job it is to seek truth and report it, failed seek the truth of the many accusations of Blair, punish him and report it an effort to be transparent. Instead all of their actions were reactive to the situation.
Like in any profession or any area of life, there are people committing wrong acts that give their organization a bad name. Journalists report countless stories of doctors treating patients wrong or even killing them. I work at the U.S. Attorney’s Office and we are always learning of lawyers across the nation who are getting disbarred from practices. However, you don’t hear of the medical field or the law field having to forfeit their rights to be called a profession.
A quote that professor has quoted on occasion in her class explains why the journalist field cannot escape the ever careful eye of scrutiny. Generally speaking, the quote is the difference between journalists and other professions is that when doctors make mistakes, they put them in the grave. When lawyers make mistakes, they put them in jail. When journalists make mistakes, they put them on the front page.
To answer the question of the debate of whether or not journalism should be a profession, yes it should be, and the journalists that practice it should be regarded as professionals as well.
Journalism should be considered as a profession because while although journalists don’t agree on the specific, they do share transcending values in which they hold themselves accountable too. They are trained to regard, analyze and disseminate phenomena (Weaver, Reader 199).
These transcending values are to seek the truth and report it truthfully and objectively so that citizens can have verifiable information about their world and to keep government accountable, to be independent and fair, and provide a public forum. Journalists are also committed to free expression as well (Gade, Reader 263)
In Beam’s reading, it lists various characteristics of a profession. Journalisms meets the following listed characteristics: an occupation organized around a body of knowledge or specialized technique, members are willing to put public service ahead of economic gain, has an established professional culture that generally promotes the value of journalists, and the occupation socializes its members through education and training (Beam, Reader 227).
Some would argue that journalism could not be considered as a profession because it is a profession that is not based on strict educational requirements and licensing (Weaver, Reader 199). And a great majority would also argue that the development of citizen-based journalism is indeed proving that anyone can do journalism so journalism is far from being a profession. I would counter argue that that’s the beauty of the profession. In professor Gade’s chapter entitled “Reshaping the Journalistic Culture”, he describes the journalism profession as a “semi-profession” due to journalism’s rejection of formal definitions but its consideration of the traits, attributes and functions of the cohort, and because the profession is not legally mandated.
The journalism field is a special field because it has major factors constantly changing it. Some of these factors are identified as technology, economic and the duality purpose of journalism, which is to serve both as journalistic and commercial enterprises (Gade, Reader 263). While I believe that educational requirements are indeed necessary, I also believe that strict educational requirements would be a waste of time. I believe balancing these factors while trying to survive the credibility of the paper comes from trained experience. The profession of journalism would not able to rapidly change as various factors require it too if it had to adhere to licensing. Not only that, the profession of journalism would not be able to provide information critical of the government or big businesses if it had to adhere to licensing laws. We saw evidence of this in the 1700s and 1800s with the seditious laws that constricted the growth of journalism.


  1. Who Decides?

    I agree with your idea that journalism and the journalists who genuinely practice truth, fairness and other important journalistic roles should be regarded as such professionals. What I struggle with though are who and how the professional standards should be set.
    Who should decide what attributes journalists should prioritize over others?
    As we look at many codes of ethics we discussed in class that they can play many roles for an organization and the individuals who use them, and not all of those roles are professional ones I would suggest.
    So how do journalists who deserve the respect of professionals gain that respect? Will it take a professional code? I say it will. Or it will take something public that forces journalists to be truthful, fair and unbiased that the public can hold us to.

  2. I think that the standards are already there, and have been developing and adding upon itself since the conception of journalism in the publik houses. It takes journalists like those who met for the Concerned Journalists conference in Kovach and Rosentiel's book to help articulate these standards. The profession of journalism is much like our constitution I think. It's vagueness is necessary to make it work. To establish specifics would constrict it as nothing would ever get done, and eventually kill it.

  3. I think that the best way to gain respect as a professional journalist is to show "the best attainable version" of mastery of the constant changing face of journalism. Continue to be what people depend on to confirm what they read on a blog, or what they heard rumored to be true. Strengthen media practices in order to provide citizens with information they need to be really self governing. I also think that it's important for journalists who practice from all medium practices to unite because inter-division is just a damaging, if not more damaging to our profession.

  4. I agree with most of what you said in your post Crys, but I will ask, like Whitney did, who is the "end all, be all" that decides what is considered professional, and what isn't? This is something that the industry struggles with in trying to prove itself.

    Who's opinion is the most "trustworthy" in the industry?

    I think too often, as inexperienced rookies in the game, we turn to what we feel to be the "big fish" like the New York Times, ESPN, Wall Street Journal, (etc.) to be this lofty model to aspire to be like, so we try to replicate what we think would be the best to follow in situations where we are unsure. In doing that we fail to realize that the tools for success in any market has to do with what we already have once we enter the market.

    I am a firm believer in that good product speaks for itself. It always does. Lebron James is a great basketball player because he revolutionized the game in his own unique way. He didn't craft his game after Michael Jordan. He used his God-given tools to create his own style of play. As journalists, doing this will get rid of a need to "fit in" professionally.

    I disagree with Whitney. No professional code will serve as a widely agreed-upon model to allow all journalists to practice good, professional journalism. It's all about being autonomous. Learn how to play the game, so YOU can be the "end all, be all" of your own work.

  5. Ps. My aunt is a U.S. Attorney. Any chance that you know her? Her name is Rozia McKinney-Foster. If so, let her know that you're in my class so she can ask you what my classroom habits are. If she asks, put in a good word. ;D

  6. This debate continues to go around in circles both in our class and on this blog. I think the debate is healthy and at times enlightening (if not a bit tiresome), but what I find myself asking is this: Who cares if journalism is a profession? The public that consumes journalism does not seem to raise this question very often. Do news consumers question the validity and relevance of what news organizations choose to cover? Yes. Do they question the ethics of certain journalists? Yes. But there simply is no demand for the professionalization of journalism in the audience. Standardized testing for all mass media reporters would not lead to more truth seekers or more reliable reporting. A certification would not guarantee ethical behavior. And simply put, consumers just wouldn't buy into it.

    Further, journalists who view themselves as professionals and hold themselves to professional standards do so anyway. It doesn't matter if another journalists says they are a professional while I say they are not. The product we as journalists produce is the same regardless. I don't care about being a professional journalist. I care about being an intelligent, well-read person who is capable of thinking, interpreting and writing about the world around me. To me, professionalism is a state of mind, not a state of being. I can think like a professional without the constraints of being one. After all, journalism is not a science.