Sunday, November 8, 2009

Journalism as a profession

The debate over journalism as a profession is one that has come up multiple times in several of my journalism classes. Many journalists (and journalism students) would probably like to think of themselves as professionals practicing a professional craft. Many could argue that journalists have a core set of values, are trained and have personal autonomy and therefore are professionals (Weaver, 131.) However, unlike law or medicine, anyone can practice journalism. In fact, more and more people are publishing written and broadcast stories today than ever before. Some bloggers or other Internet publishers do their own reporting and write in ways similar to real news organizations. Are they professionals? I assert that these bloggers/internet publishers and their news organization counterparts are not professionals. Weaver et al back up this claim in a discussion of their survey: “Others responded that if a profession is an autonomous practice of work based on strict educational requirements and licensing then journalism is far from a profession” (Weaver, 131.) No strict educational requirements or mandatory licensing currently exist in journalism.

Based on all of this week’s reading, it is clear that journalists do not, for the most part, even agree on any given set of core values. The surveys and reports indicated several types of journalists, several different primary “functions” of journalism and varying levels of support for some ethical practices. Role conceptions among journalists included what Weaver et al defined as interpretive, adversarial, disseminator and populist mobilizer (Weaver, 138.) Journalism just doesn’t have the clear-cut and simplistic objectives of true professions.


On the other hand, journalism does fit into some of Beam et al’s list of professional attributes. For example, the list includes “have considerable autonomy,” “socializes its members through education and training” and “this occupation is usually lifelong and terminal” (Beam, 279.) Journalism generally fits these criteria.

Still, I think journalists can hold professional standards and fit certain professional criteria without belonging to a true profession like medicine, law or accounting. Until some form of board certification is required for journalists to enter the field, I don’t think it can be considered a true profession. Even if this were to happen, it would be impossible to prevent independent publishers who need only a computer from doing reporting and writing and reaching an audience. It would, in essence, be a waste of time and money to attempt to professionalize journalism in today’s world of extremely open access to information and information sharing. Would anyone really care whether a story came from a “certified” journalist or a Twitter update? I think this answer is no.

In conclusion, I do think journalists can hold professional values (albeit very different based on Weaver’s surveys) and use them as a guide. Journalists can conduct themselves in a professional manner and hold high ethical standards. But this is a personal decision, not one sanctioned by an overarching professional journalism organization. There is too much freedom in journalism for this, and I don’t think this is a negative thing. I agree most with Gade’s conclusion, “Journalists see their professional values as anchors that provide stability, distinguish them from others in the public sphere and give them a sense of purpose in today’s shifting seas” (Gade, 267.)


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  2. Professionalism does exist in journalism

    While you are correct in saying that there are no official guidelines required for journalists or a test that certifies someone to be a professional journalist, there is such thing as a professional. This professionalism may not be set by any one organization but there are as you quoted from Gade "professional values as anchors that provide stability, distinguish them from others in the public sphere." Just because these values are not in the form of a certificate or test does not mean they don't exist or that those who adopt such values are not considered professionals.
    Secondly, I have to say I find it appalling that you put news organizations on the same level as bloggers. I understand where you find that the access to online publishing is the same for both an at home blogger and an online news organization, but they are absolutely not on the same level with news coverage and content.
    While a blogger may have the same access as the news organization to publish his/her thoughts or facts, ect, they do not necessarily hold the values needed to report fair, unbiased and accurate news that supports the citizens and their democracy.
    The separation is there it is just not defined as clearly as it should be in today's current state of digital media. It takes an intelligent mind to find the differences and isn't that the public we all say we write for, the informed citizens?

  3. I think journalism is a unique job field, more so than any other field of work out there because anyone can now partake in it. Perhaps back before the internet, blogs and twitter updates the term journalist had a more prominent meaning to it because not everyone was able to participate. However, in today’s world as we all know anyone can claim to be a journalist, all you need is a laptop and a beat and you can start writing. And while I agree with you and Weaver’s comments that making journalism an actual profession would be somewhat meaningless it is still always beneficial to educate the proper ways of journalism. We as students are separated from the everyday blogger even though we might not have a certificate that says we are. We understand the rights and wrongs of journalism and we posses certain skills both from a writing standpoint and an ethical standpoint that puts us in a higher class than the everyday so called “journalist.”

  4. I agree completely that trying to set standards of professionalizing journalism would be a waste of time. Yes, certain news organizations have more credibility than others, but Kelsey's right. Any kind of certification would not stop the audience from getting the news from a Twitter update or a blog. Sure there would be the elite few that would take a matter like that into account. But I agree that most people don't care weather a journalist is certified or not. That's why we see that so many blogs are successful.
    And Whitney, I don't think that Kelsey was necessarily saying that bloggers are on the same level as other news organizations. I think she's merely recognizing the flattening of the world concept. Now it's easier than ever to publish content. You don't have to work for a major news organization to be considered a journalist. And although this venture might lose you some credibility, the audience can usually see through what is a genuine effort and what isn't.