Skip to content

What is Journalism?

Somehow I don’t think that anyone really knows what journalism is anymore. We do know what the journalistic industry used to be - various institutions telling us what is happening in the world. We have, increasingly, rejected that approach, finding the system manipulative, commercial, high-handed, ethnocentric, and untrustworthy.

Many have adopted the “journal” part of journalism, keeping a journal as a personal vehicle - what happened in my/your day, what do I/you think of what the old journalism industry is telling us, etc. Part of this trend is due to the powerlessness that comes with being a rather passive recipient of news that one cannot do much about - what is the point of knowing about one disaster after another if they will just keep happening and all one can do is send a bit of money? A blog gives at least the illusion of impact, and is usually less institutional and remote.

So what then should journalism schools - such as the one at the University of Colorado that is thinking of closing (see the previous post) - be teaching? Certainly knowing how to operate multiple technologies is only a partial answer at best - taking pictures, writing articles, interviewing, creating audios and videos, cannot be done well by any single person. And who or what should these emerging journalists be focusing upon?

We know that covering celebrities is cheap and titillating, and lots of potential readers and viewers are enthusiastic voyeurs. Viewing the horrific effects of the floods in Pakistan or an explosion in Afghanistan becomes a nasty voyeurism - they suffer from a seemingly safe distance - while watching an actress wear revealing clothing, or a sex-obsessed golfer talk about his woes, is salacious but not as fraught with self-recrimination. The Huffington Post, like English tabloids, is an example of the allure of sex and gossip to sugarcoat and render nearly irrelevant the news - like the previous Playboy magazine combination of centerfold and articles.

So what then should journalism be today? Infographs? Short video clips? Factoids? Obviously we would want more, but in a society of diminished attention spans, combined with the embrace of freedom of choice (consumerism) and the lack of political will, journalism has to be constituted quite differently.

Rather than the famous inverted pyramid of news writing (the most important information up top) there may have to be a variety of new metaphors for interactive screen-based media. Maybe one might be based upon those Russian babushka dolls where smaller ones are nestled inside larger ones- the reader/viewer’s attention is caught by the big idea, the infograph or image, and if interested, then each shell can be removed to reveal more complexity underneath. And if it is all presented in such a way that arriving at the next layers is intriguing, even fun, then maybe we will be able to maintain the constant feedback for a “user” that is necessary in an interactive medium - the reader/viewer has to be able to be constantly active, made to feel in charge, not consigned to just reading or looking. (Is interactivity actually another way of saying the customer is always right?)

It is difficult to presume that generations of people who have grown up manipulating video games and grazing on Google will quiet down and focus while immersed in media where each segment is made to be quickly clicked, scanned, and left behind - we mistakenly think that because the subject matter is important that this will overcome the frenetic culture of the medium itself. It is no surprise then that the average reader of print newspapers is climbing towards 60.

Experiments such as this one - the babushka doll vs. the inverted pyramid - need to be attempted for us to know what to teach when teaching “journalism.” This is what journalism students should be doing - it’s not about the camera or the microphone, but about  ways of structuring and presenting information to try and help the contemporary reader understand the world. And it is about our future journalists (or “intelligent agents”) creating different strategies of exploration - what should be focused upon, from which perspective, and how?

The question - “what is journalism? - has not been answered, which makes the idea of a “journalism school” somewhat suspect unless it is involved in trying to answer this question.

One Comment

  1. Luc wrote:

    What is journalism? A sense of truth by depth and perspective, usually born of totally free inquisitiveness.

    You are right; journalism should focus on facts, not opinions; but these are easier to express and still necessary. Moreso because of a sense of incapacity to change things?

    I can unfortunately think of few examples of what I consider journalism in North America, and only one news organisation upholding journalistic standards: democracynow.org.

    Hopefully its example can help keep the definition of the word alive.

    Saturday, August 28, 2010 at 12:20 am | Permalink

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] After Photography › What is Journalism? pixelpress.org/afterphotography/?p=1155 – view page – cached Somehow I don’t think that anyone really knows what journalism is anymore. We do know what the journalistic industry used to be - various institutions telling us what is happening in the world. We have, increasingly, rejected that approach, finding the system manipulative, commercial, high-handed, ethnocentric, and untrustworthy. Tweets about this link [...]

  2. Writtenbylight » What is journalism??? on Friday, September 3, 2010 at 10:04 am

    [...] Extract continues here. [...]

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *
*
*