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.)