In the wake of last week’s Value of Journalism event I’m starting a debate today on that very subject with the Freelance Unbound blog. We’ve been talking for a while about whether it’s still relevant to talk about a thing called journalism, and if so what it means. So we thought we’d share – not because we want to prove any points but because we think it’s a conversation worth having.
During this week, we’ll be debating the issues on our respective blogs and we’d like to invite you to follow and, better still, comment. You can follow the debate through the magic of web interlinkage or by subscribing to our feeds. So, here’s me kicking off…
Does journalism matter?
Is there still such a thing as journalism, and if so, what do we mean by it? One answer is, ‘why does it matter?’, possibly to avoid the semantic debates and accusations of elitism or dumbing down that often follow. I’ve always argued it does matter, but in these changing times I’m conscious I need to think through and redefine my arguments.
Journalism never was a profession, despite many journalists pretending it was. Anyone could call themselves a journalist, and that hasn’t changed. What has changed is that more people who call themselves journalists have access to the means of publication. Which is probably why the debate has got increasingly heated.
But I still feel it’s important to distinguish between communication and journalism. There is a difference, but that doesn’t mean one is better than the other. It does mean one may be more appropriate than the other. It’s also important to preserve and assert some of the principles that have been built up over years of the practice of journalism. Like why protecting sources or not naming minors or offering the right of reply are important.
Which brings the discussion back to ‘what do we mean by journalism?’ While journalism isn’t a profession, there is a professional approach to journalism. As I try to define what that is in a way that more properly reflects the times we live in, I could add to the points listed above;
- Healthy sceptism
- Distinguishing opinion from fact.
Some of those things can be applied to things that aren’t journalism, some should be applied to journalism but aren’t always, and some – such as balance – invite debates all of their own. But my gut feeling is still that, put together, there are a set of values, techniques, whatever, that define a thing called journalism. Not for elitist reasons, not for keeping new practitioners out of some imagined magic circle, but because the craft itself has a worth that we shouldn’t lose sight of now we have a greater ability to communicate than ever.
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