Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How Important Should Professional Values Be to Us?

Immensely important, essentially so. As in, the I-can’t-stress-how-important-it-is kind of important. As Dr. Gade mentioned in lecture, the frameworks for our professional values begin here in college, in classes like this one that is teaching how to think about journalism, not just how to do it.

It can boil down to this: for journalism majors, now is the time when we decide how we will view the professional world of our trade before we enter it. Not only do we determine our professional values, but we find out what we believe to be newsworthy. We find out what we think is news, whether it be conflict, impact, proximity, celebrity, or any of the other traditional factors (Weaver, 153). Because ultimately our conceptions of newsworthiness depends on who we are as journalists (Weaver, 154). Consequently, in order to find out who we are as journalists, we must have a firm grasp on professional values.

We have a chance to do that now, especially those of us who are involved in Student Media. There we get hands-on practical experience, but we are also presented with the challenge of discovering our professional values in the midst of a hectic, 24-hour work week that just begs us to become complacent, not even considering what our values are, just going day-by-day.

The challenge presents itself in one of the basic forms of values: autonomy. Yes, when it comes to me and the average blogger who considers him or herself a journalist, there is the distinct difference in that my student ID will get me into the Daily newsroom and there’s won’t, but the people of the world don’t see that. It’s easy to see the difference from a journalist’s point of view, but not everyone has been trained so. When you walk around the newsroom whether you work for the Oklahoma Daily or OU Nightly or OUDaily.com, it’s easy to see the professionalism of the organized body of the newsroom. But the bottom line is this is still a university setting, which means there are many officials on this campus who will not speak to us if our story could paint them in a negative light, making it so we have to play ball with them in order to get a quote, which is not having autonomy at all (Beam, 226). How can we have any sort of latitude or control in what we want covered, essential to being a professional as Beam, Weaver, and Brownlee write, if we allow the content to be dictated by the source (Beam, 230)? That would make us no different from the citizen journalist with no perception of seeking the whole truth, who just clicks, uploads, and is gone. This leads us to determine what is more important to us as student journalists: always printing praise of the powers-that-be or not backing down and seeking the truth for our readers/viewers regardless of the difficulty. Easier said than done I know, but this is a great indicator of how we employ professional values in our craft.

As student journalists we have plenty of other opportunities to develop professional values. There are many student organizations that we can become involved in, inserting ourselves in a professional culture where our values can be shared by others and we can become socialized into our occupations (Beam, 227). We can become members of the Society of Professional Journalists, or the Oklahoma College Broadcasters, just to name a few. Joining these groups is one of the hallmarks of our profession, that’s right I said profession. They are associations where we can communicate our interests politically and socially, potentially shaping our own behaviors to be more focused on our own professional values (Beam, 228). More ways for us to be engaged in our profession can allow us more ways to discover what our values are.

As student journalists, we have to make the effort to apply these and other professional values in our everyday lives as we go about our reporting. It’s true that anyone can be sat down and taught how to write, shoot, edit, and upload news content, but what separates us as journalists are these values. Not everyone can be a professional journalist when these values, responsibilities, and obligations are added to the job. Most importantly, down the road in our careers, we will be forced to make the tough choices when it comes to our reporting. It could be where we choose to work or deciding whether or not to run a story, which could be in conflict with any number of factors. When that time comes, when the chips are down, our own journalistic professional values will aid us in those decisions, and ultimately dictate who we are as reporters.


  1. I agree with your post, Nick. The last few blog posts have dealt with journalism as a profession. There seems to be a lot of back and forth between the class on what this actually entails. But I think that discussion isn't really an important one. Sure, it has value. But if we, the journalists, can't agree on whether or not we're a profession then how can we expect society to understand where we are coming from.
    That debate is not something we'll solve overnight. That's why I'm pleased to see the conversation shift to professional values. Nick's right. We're in the stage of our life where our main professional values are being developed and formed. Participating in Student Media or having internships gives us a unique opportunity to develop our ideals. And there's no reason we shouldn't take advantage of these opportunities. Because once we get out in the real world, we'll need to already have a foundation for our professional values.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I agree, Breia, that a discussion of professional values is a more worthwhile pursuit than the profession debate itself. Like I said in a comment before, I simply do not care if journalism is considered a profession. I do, however, maintain that journalistic values and ethics are important in developing into a good journalist. Like Nick said, now is the time for us to explore what principles are going to guide us when we leave college and enter the real world of media. Through things like Student Media, which teach us how to handle day-to-day challenges, we see some of the things we'll face and learn how to react (or not react, in some cases.) Through conceptual classes like this one, we learn how to think about the things we might face and what values we want to hold. College is a time for us to do both at the same time without fear of huge consequences and with peers and mentors to guide us, hopefully with more patience than the real world. This experience is what will set us apart from the bloggers and citizen journalists of the world. This is what will make us authentic journalists.

  4. Great post, Nick. I agree that we as student journalists on a university campus have less autonomy because we are often pushed aside and given the cold shoulder when it comes to getting information or interviews.

    I feel like we often do not do enough to seek "the truth for our readers/viewers regardless of the difficulty." Even when we do get the interviews, we too often take what administration officials say at face value.

    I think if anything, college could be a time to really take risks and try to shine a light on controversial issues. We are not under the pressure of upsetting our corporate owners or the shareholders that may one day pay our salaries. We have a lot more freedom than I think we realize, I just think we are often too timid in trying to stir things up.

  5. I also agree with what Nick’s post, he makes many great points. Classes like this one really help us understand what it means to be a journalist. It seems that every other journalism class I have taken before this have taught me skills such as writing, shooting, editing and so on. However, this is a class that makes us use the one skill we need to be using the most, our minds. All semester we have been learning about the history of different beliefs and values in journalism, and it has been hard for some to grasp (me included) because we have never had to think about journalism in a critical sense. It is these values and beliefs that separate us from the so called journalist and put us in an elite class that does make us professionals. We need to take advantage of what we learn this semester and begin to apply it immediately before we go into the real world. Like James said our student media is not under the pressure of corporate owners and shareholders so why not take chances and stir the pot? As the saying goes, you cannot know where you’re going unless you know where you have been. Professor Gade has taught us the past, now it is up to us to apply it in the future.

  6. In response to James' comment about taking risks now while we are not under corporate pressure, I feel the pressure is greater at our university than in the real world.

    I may be sadly disproved once I do get out in the "real world," but I hold my claim true for now based on my experiences reporting at OU and interning at professional organizations.

    Our campus is highly political and it is not in anyone's best interest to bite the hand that feeds them.

    For example, if you uncover a sandal about a professor in your college that is on a committee that decides who gets scholarship money, you might not receive as much money after you defame him in the university paper.

    At a professional news organization if you uncover a scandal about the mayor, I doubt he or she can really do too much harm to your career.