What is a journalist? Who is a journalist? These are questions being asked by media outlets and the government as the blurred lines of journalism draw ever closer to disappearing entirely.
Gone are the days when a journalist was a person who worked at a news outlet as a man-on-the-street reporter. Today, journalists can operate from their homes, and they don’t need a major news organization to publish their content. Technology has given everyone the ability to “report” on a story.
While some argue that real journalists are completely objective when reporting stories, the idea of journalistic objectivity hasn’t existed for a long time (if it ever did). Turn on competing 24-hour news stations like Fox News and MSNBC, and you’ll see continuous examples of “reporting” that isn’t even close to being objective despite claims by the former of being “fair and objective.”
As Matthew Ingram from Paid Content explained in a recent article, journalists are expected to be objective reporters rather than advocating their own agendas. However, he explains that many of the most famous journalists are passionate advocates. They just happen to be passionate advocates of, “exposing government corruption or telling the truth about an event, or bearing witness to something important.”
I’d argue that journalists are story advocates. They want to get a story out to the public.
The best journalists can remain objective, but even large media organizations demand that their journalists report stories in a specific tone that most appeals to their paying audience. Bottom-line, the objectivity is lost.
While large news organizations like The New York Times are trying to paint bloggers and citizen journalists as inferior to their paid reporters, the truth is that those news organizations are losing readers to bloggers and citizen journalists every day. The objectivity that could differentiate news organizations from everyone else is long gone, and audiences know it. The challenge of separating facts from fiction and objective content from biased content is left to the audience.
Ultimately, I agree with Matthew Ingram and recent court rulings that say there shouldn’t be a line drawn between who is or isn’t a journalist, because anyone can become a journalist at any moment. Ingram wrote:
“Isn’t that what the framers of the Constitution would have wanted? At the time that document was written, the ‘press’ consisted of pamphleteers more like I.F. Stone (i.e., bloggers) than The New York Times. That may make it difficult—or even impossible—to conclusively define who is a journalist and who isn’t, but in the end, I think we wind up with a media sphere that is more open (and yes, a lot more chaotic), and in the long run that is likely to be a good thing.”
Sounds right to me. What do you think?
I highly recommend that you follow the link above to read Ingram’s full article. It’s filled with examples, quotes, and information about the ongoing debate about who qualifies as a journalist. It’s a great read.
Image: John Moore