Journalism is the production and distribution of reports on the interaction of events, facts, ideas, and people that are the "news of the day" and that informs society to at least some degree. The word applies to the occupation (professional or not), the methods of gathering information, and the organizing literary styles. Journalistic media include: print, television, radio, Internet, and, in the past, newsreels.
- Professional and ethical standards
- Failing to uphold standards
- Legal status
- Right to protect confidentiality of sources
Concepts of the appropriate role for journalism varies between countries. In some nations, the news media is controlled by a government intervention, and is not a fully independent body. In others, the news media is independent from the government but the profit motive is in tension with constitutional protections of freedom of the press. Access to freely available information gathered by independent and competing journalistic enterprises with transparent editorial standards can enable citizens to effectively participate in the political process. In the United States, journalism is protected by the freedom of the press clause in the First Amendment.
The role and status of journalism, along with that of the mass media, has undergone changes over the last two decades with the advent of digital technology and publication of news on the Internet. This has created a shift in the consumption of print media channels, as people increasingly consume news through e-readers, smartphones, and other electronic devices, challenging news organizations to fully monetize their digital wing, as well as improvise on the context in which they publish news in print. Notably, in the American media landscape, newsrooms have reduced their staff and coverage as traditional media channels, such as television, grapple with declining audiences. For instance, between 2007 and 2012, CNN edited its story packages into nearly half of their original time length.
This compactness in coverage has been linked to broad audience attrition, as a large majority of respondents in recent studies show changing preferences in news consumption. The digital era has also ushered in a new kind of journalism in which ordinary citizens play a greater role in the process of news making, with the rise of citizen journalism being possible through the Internet. Using video camera equipped smartphones, active citizens are now enabled to record footage of news events and upload them onto channels like YouTube, which is often discovered and used by mainstream news media outlets. Meanwhile, easy access to news from a variety of online sources, like blogs and other social media, has resulted in readers being able to pick from a wider choice of official and unofficial sources, instead of only from traditional media organizations. Journalism is nonfiction.
Journalistic conventions vary by country. In the United States, journalism is produced by media organizations or by individuals. Bloggers are often, but not always, journalists. The Federal Trade Commission requires that bloggers who receive free promotional gifts, then write about products, must disclose that they received the products for free. This is to eliminate conflicts of interest and protect consumers.
Fake news is news that is not truthful or is produced by unreliable media organizations. Fake news is easily spread on social media. Readers can determine fake news by evaluating whether the news has been published by a credible news organization. In the US, a credible news organization is an incorporated entity; has an editorial board; and has a clear division between editorial and advertising departments. Credible news organizations, or their employees, belong to one or more professional organizations such as the American Society of News Editors, the Society of Professional Journalists, Investigative Reporters & Editors, or the Online News Association. All of these organizations have codes of ethics that members abide by. Many news organizations have their own codes of ethics that guide journalists' professional publications. The New York Times code of standards and ethics is considered particularly rigorous.
When they write stories, journalists are concerned with issues of objectivity and bias. Some types of stories are intended to represent the author's own opinion; other types of stories are intended to be more neutral or balanced. In a physical newspaper, information is organized into sections and it is easy to see which stories are supposed to be opinion and which are supposed to be neutral. Online, many of these distinctions break down. Readers should pay careful attention to headings and other design elements to ensure that they understand the journalist's intent. Opinion pieces generally are written by regular columnists or appear in a section titled "Op-ed." Feature stories, breaking news, and hard news stories are generally not opinion pieces.
Many debates center on whether journalists are "supposed" to be "objective" or "neutral." The idea of "journalistic objectivity" is considered out of date. Journalists are people who produce news out of and as part of a particular social context. They are guided by professional codes of ethics and do their best to represent all legitimate points of view.
There are several different forms of journalism, all with diverse audiences. Journalism is said to serve the role of a "fourth estate", acting as a watchdog on the workings of the government. A single publication (such as a newspaper) contains many forms of journalism, each of which may be presented in different formats. Each section of a newspaper, magazine, or website may cater to different audiences.
Some forms include:
The recent rise of social media has resulted in arguments to reconsider journalism as a process rather than attributing it to particular news products. From this perspective, journalism is participatory, a process distributed among multiple authors and involving journalists as well as the socially mediating public.
Johann Carolus's Relation aller Fürnemmen und gedenckwürdigen Historien, published in 1605 in Strassburg, is often recognized as the first newspaper. The first successful English daily, the Daily Courant, was published from 1702 to 1735. The reform of the Diário Carioca newspaper in the 1950s is usually referred to as the birth of modern journalism in Brazil.
In the 1920s, as modern journalism was just taking form, writer Walter Lippmann and American philosopher John Dewey debated over the role of journalism in a democracy. Their differing philosophies still characterize a debate about the role of journalism in society and the nation-state.
To Lippmann, the journalist fulfilled the role of mediator, or translator, between the general public and policy-making elites. Lippmann reasoned that the public could not assess modern society's growingly complex flurry of facts; therefore, it needed an intermediary to filter its news. Journalists served as this intermediary, recording the information exchanged among elites, distilling it, and passing it on for public consumption. The public would affect the decisions of the elite with its vote; in the meantime, the elite would keep the business of power running. Effectively, Lippmann's philosophy had the public at the bottom of the power chain, inheriting its information from the elite.
Lippmann's elitism had consequences that he came to deplore. An apostle of historicism and scientism, Lippmann did not merely hold that democratic government was a problematic exercise, but regarded all political communities, of whatever stripe, as needing guidance from a transcendent partisanship for accurate information and dispassionate judgment. In "Liberty and the News" (1919) and "Public Opinion" (1921) Lippmann expressed the hope that liberty could be redefined to take account of the scientific and historical perspective and that public opinion could be managed by a system of intelligence in and out of government. Thus the liberty of the journalist was to be dedicated to gathering verifiable facts while commentators like himself would place the news in the broader perspective. Lippmann deplored the influence of powerful newspaper publishers and preferred the judgments of the "patient and fearless men of science". In so doing, he denigrated not only the opinion of the majority but also the opinion of those who had influence or power as well. In a republican form of government, the representatives are chosen by the people and share with them adherence to the fundamental principles and political institutions of the polity. Lippmann's quarrel was with those very principles and institutions, for they are the product of the pre-scientific and pre-historical viewpoint and what for him was a groundless natural-rights political philosophy.
But Lippmann turned against what he called the "collectivism" of the Progressive movement he encouraged with its de-emphasis on the foundations of American politics and government and ultimately wrote a work, "The Public Philosophy" (1955), which came very close to a return to the principles of the American founders.
Dewey, on the other hand, believed not only that the public was capable of understanding the issues created or responded to by the elite, but also that it was in the public forum that decisions should be made after discussion and debate. When issues were thoroughly vetted, then the best ideas would bubble to the surface. Dewey believed journalists should do more than simply pass on information. He believed they should weigh the consequences of the policies being enacted. Over time, his idea has been implemented in various degrees, and is more commonly known as "community journalism".
This concept of community journalism is at the centre of new developments in journalism. In this new paradigm, journalists are able to engage citizens and the experts and elites in the proposition and generation of content. While there is an assumption of equality, Dewey still celebrated expertise. Dewey believed the shared knowledge of many to be far superior to a single individual's knowledge. Experts and scholars are welcome in Dewey's framework, but there is not the hierarchical structure present in Lippmann's understanding of journalism and society. According to Dewey, conversation, debate, and dialogue lie at the heart of a democracy.
While Lippmann's journalistic philosophy might be more acceptable to government leaders, Dewey's approach is a more encompassing description of how many journalists see their role in society, and, in turn, how much of society expects journalists to function. Americans, for example, may criticize some of the excesses committed by journalists, but they tend to expect journalists to serve as watchdogs on government, businesses and actors, enabling people to make informed decisions on the issues of the time.
Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel propose several guidelines for journalists in their book The Elements of Journalism. Because journalism's first loyalty is to the citizenry, journalists are obliged to tell the truth and must serve as an independent monitor of powerful individuals and institutions within society. The essence of journalism is to provide citizens with reliable information through the discipline of verification.
Professional and ethical standards
While various existing codes have some differences, most share common elements including the principles of — truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability — as these apply to the acquisition of newsworthy information and its subsequent dissemination to the public.
Some journalistic Codes of Ethics, notably the European ones, also include a concern with discriminatory references in news based on race, religion, sexual orientation, and physical or mental disabilities. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe approved in 1993 Resolution 1003 on the Ethics of Journalism which recommends journalists to respect the presumption of innocence, in particular in cases that are still sub judice.
In the UK, all newspapers are bound by the Code of Practice of the Independent Press Standards Organisation.This includes points like respecting people's privacy and ensuring accuracy. However, the Media Standards Trust has criticized the PCC, claiming it needs to be radically changed to secure public trust of newspapers.
This is in stark contrast to the media climate prior to the 20th century, where the media market was dominated by smaller newspapers and pamphleteers who usually had an overt and often radical agenda, with no presumption of balance or objectivity.
Because of the pressure on journalists to report news promptly and before their competitors, factual errors occur more frequently than in writing produced and edited under less time pressure. Thus a typical issue of a major daily newspaper may contain several corrections of articles published the previous day. Perhaps the most famous journalistic mistake caused by time pressure was the Dewey Defeats Truman edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune, based on early election returns that failed to anticipate the actual result of the 1948 US presidential election.
Failing to uphold standards
Such a code of conduct can, in the real world, be difficult to uphold consistently. Reporting and editing do not occur in a vacuum but always reflect the political context in which journalists, no less than other citizens, operate.
A news organization's budget inevitably reflects decision-making about what news to cover, for what audience, and in what depth. When budgets are cut, editors may sacrifice reporters in distant news bureaus, reduce the number of staff assigned to low-income areas, or wipe entire communities from the publication's zone of interest.
Publishers, owners and other corporate executives, especially advertising sales executives, could try to use their powers over journalists to influence how news is reported and published. For this reason, journalists traditionally relied on top management to create and maintain a "firewall" between the news and other departments in a news organization to prevent undue influence on the news department.
Although some analysts point to the inherent difficulty of maintaining objectivity, and others practically deny that it is possible, still others point to the requirements of a free press in a democratic society governed by public opinion and a republican government under a limited constitution. According to this latter view, direct or implicit criticism of the government, political parties, corporations, unions, schools and colleges and even churches is both inevitable and desirable, and cannot be done well without clarity regarding fundamental political principles. Hence, objectivity consists both in truthful, accurate reporting and well-reasoned and thoughtful commentary, based upon a firm commitment to a free society's principles of equality, liberty and government by consent.
Governments have widely varying policies and practices towards journalists, which control what they can research and write, and what press organizations can publish. Some governments guarantee the freedom of the press; while other nations severely restrict what journalists can research or publish.
Journalists in many nations have some privileges that members of the general public do not, including better access to public events, crime scenes and press conferences, and to extended interviews with public officials, celebrities and others in the public eye.
Journalists who elect to cover conflicts, whether wars between nations or insurgencies within nations, often give up any expectation of protection by government, if not giving up their rights to protection by government. Journalists who are captured or detained during a conflict are expected to be treated as civilians and to be released to their national government. Many governments around the world target journalists for intimidation, harassment, and violence because of the nature of their work.
Right to protect confidentiality of sources
Journalists' interaction with sources sometimes involves confidentiality, an extension of freedom of the press giving journalists a legal protection to keep the identity of a confidential informant private even when demanded by police or prosecutors; withholding their sources can land journalists in contempt of court, or in jail.
In the United States, there is no right to protect sources in a federal court. However, federal courts will refuse to force journalists to reveal their sources, unless the information the court seeks is highly relevant to the case and there's no other way to get it. State courts provide varying degrees of such protection. Journalists who refuse to testify even when ordered to can be found in contempt of court and fined or jailed. On the journalistic side of keeping sources confidential, there is also a risk to the journalist's credibility because there can be no actual confirmation of whether the information is valid. As such it is highly discouraged for journalists to have confidential sources.