Why does it matter if we call it journalism?

I’ve just had an email from a journalist in Portugal, who describes an all-too-familiar scenario:

“On Portuguese public TV there is a show called “Journalist’s Club”. The moderator was interviewing the director of the Portuguese news agency LUSA. He asked: is citizen journalism journalism? The director of LUSA said ‘Yes’ with some examples. The moderator was insistingly, to say the least, denying this possibility, giving the final comparison: “The act of journalism is like a medical act” – i.e. journalists are like doctors – they hold a power. This is the opinion of a majority of professionals here in Portugal and I bet in many other countries too.”

It amazes me that people are still debating whether X or Y is journalism. Apart from anything else, it seems such a pointless debate. Why does it matter what you call it?

There’s the comment-fueller for today – I’d love to know your opinions.

14 thoughts on “Why does it matter if we call it journalism?

  1. Tim

    I’m not a journalist but:

    The distinction could be made between Journalism and Reporting. Recreate the buzzword as Citizen Reporting.

  2. Nick, BBC North East Wales Web Team

    You’re right – it doesn’t matter what you call it. But I guess it does if you’re a journalist on the outside of stories and debates being driven by this thing called citizen journalism. They’re used to being in the know but the ‘journalists’ club’ is no longer exclusive and we have to get used to that. I hear old hacks make citizen journalism sound apart from the once traditional understanding of the word ‘journalism’ as if to suggest one carries more weight than the other. Does the audience make the same distinction?

  3. Dave

    Nick makes a great point, I think. What if we imagine a poll where respondents in the main say they find journalism/journalists to be [insert pejorative: untrustworthy, sensational, whatever]. Chances are, at this point, those responses will be based from experiences with traditional media — print and broadcast.

    But if we want to say (print) journalism is (citizen) journalism is (blogged) journalism, do we not toss whatever new forms of journalism that come about (e.g. blogs or citizen journalism) into the public’s pile of [insert pejorative] before that form has a chance to prove itself to the mainstream? I don’t mean to say the new forms won’t have their own problems, only that they might be different problems from other media.

    In short, people think certain things when they hear “journalism” that we might not want to carry over to new media, things that perhaps aren’t warranted to think.

    That’s off the top of my head though. Thoughts?

  4. paulbradshaw Post author

    When people are asked about ‘journalists’ they say they don;t trust them; but when finer analysis is made, clearly people make more subtle distinctions between tabloids, nationals, locals, broadcast, and so on. The BBC for instance often gets very high trust ratings. So I don’t think we should worry too much about new media being seen as some lump – people will trust some brands online (whether bloggers or pro-journalists), and not others.

  5. Dave

    Good point. Though I’d be interested to see those studies if you know any off the top of your head. I’d be especially interested to know how they got people towards that “finer analysis” — as in, to what extent could we expect people to make the same analysis and distinctions in their day-to-day media consumption habits?

  6. Dave

    Good point. Though I’d be interested to see those studies if you know any off the top of your head. I’d be especially interested to know how they got people towards that “finer analysis” — as in, to what extent could we expect people to make the same analysis and distinctions in their day-to-day media consumption habits?

  7. Bas Timmers

    It’s all about being trustworthy, isn’t it? A lot of bloggers, say Cory Doctorow from BoingBoing or Jeff Jarvis, probably don’t call themselves journalists (anymore). But I would consider them experts on their respective subjects. So whether you call someone a journalist or not, I don’t care at all. We should call them experts, because visitors of their sites conceive them as such.

  8. Dr John Cokley

    I think it does matter but unlike many, I am ready to acknowledge citizen journalists as my colleagues … who are also my competitors. I think the last point is essential. Journalists routinely drink and natter professionally with their colleagues who work for competing enterprises … half the pubs in the world would close if this was not so. Some of my competitors don’t have the collected experience, skills or education which I do, but still work and earn a living quite well. And I don’t have the collected experience, skills or education of some others i drink with and work with, but they still deal with — and talk to — me. this debate chews at a nagging wound in journalism … it’s called insularity and insecurity. in my work, i try to help newcomers to journalism acquire knowledge, skills and attitudes which will allow them to function in the world of journalism … thus forming them as journalists. i don’t equivocate about this … i aim to form journalists, no matter where or for whom they work. god knows, i’ve worked for just about the whole spectrum, including myself. and no one has ever suggested that i am not a journalist.

  9. teachj

    I deal with this kind of prejudice all the time as a high school teacher. My students get labeled as “not real journalists” simply because they are young and just learning their trade. But there is not certification board (at least in the US) for journalists.

    Journalism is a craft, just like painting, glass blowing or metal working. You can do it professionally (with various degrees of success) or as an amateur (also with various degrees of success). More than 200 years ago a free press meant you owned one, today it means you own a laptop with internet access.

    Journalists are running scared because they are worried that the money stream that has fed their business for more than a century is running out.

    But I think someone will always be willing to sponsor good local news. National and international news will get covered by the googles and yahoos of the future.

    Chill out.

  10. Pingback:   links for 2007-11-11 by andydickinson.net

  11. Craig Stoltz

    The term “citizen journalist” has always puzzled me. As opposed to what, “illegal alien journalists”?

    No, seriously, folks: The difficulty lies in the fact that as the media by which people deliver “content” multiply, so do the number, and kinds, of people who create it.

    Blog axe-grinders certainly are not reporters. Editorialists, perhaps.

    When MSM reporters point to other web content they curate rather than report.

    When flash developers illuminate something, they are doing news analysis.

    When citizen journalists uncover a microscam, they are doing investigative reporting.

    When a gal with a cell phone posts videos of a celeb perp walk on YouTube, she’s. . ..what, a videographer? A gossip reporter?

    My point is we’re trying to come up with one term to describe many different things done by many different kinds of people who have many different agendas.

    All right, it sounds arch and European, but: Contenteurs?

  12. paulbradshaw Post author

    I love ‘Contenteurs’!
    I’ve actually been a bit arch with this post, because I do have my own opinions on the question. The main reason I can think of it being important why we call it journalism is about access, and legal protection. Scott Gant’s book (http://astore.amazon.co.uk/onlijourblog-21/detail/0743299264/026-5719578-6981262) does a good job of covering those issues, and why we need to rethink the privileges afforded professional journalists vs citizens.

  13. Andy Williams

    A quick response to Dave’s post 6:

    Click to access TEL020101018_2.pdf

    That’s a link to a YouGov poll on trust which grades the public’s trust in different flavours of journalist (amongst other professions). Interestingly, ITV and Channel 4 journalists come out on top, with BBC journalists a close second. Tabloid reporters come bottom, of course.

  14. Glyn

    I think teachj has hit a nail on the head here, the old school’s fear is that someone untrained/inexperienced will be putting out defamatory content.

    But surely it was ever thus. This question of accuracy is crucial, pros have it drummed into them – but don’t always get it right. So why should CJs be any different?

    The key is expertise as Bas says, someone with it will always get respect.

    The question isn’t about how to name pro/am journalism (although I now want a “Je suis un contentuer” T-shirt) – but about the consumer and how they choose to access the good work being done on either side of this “divide”.

    No one doubts citizen journalists are covering stories the pros couldn’t get near. And there’s no doubt that excellent pro journalism is being done.

    It comes down to where people want to consume their news. And for a while, at least, trusted brands will still be the order of the day.


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