FAQ: has the role of the journalist changed? (and other questions)

Here’s another set of questions from a student I’m publishing as part of my FAQ series:

Do you think the role of the journalist has changed in modern media and if so why? What further changes do you envisage over the next
few years?

Both questions are tackled in detail in the 6th part of my model for the 21st century newsroom. I think we have new types of information which is changing the role of the journalist, and that post sketches out how that might pan out.

Do you think investigative journalism, the old journalism, is dead?

No. And I don’t think investigative journalism is ‘the old journalism’. If you read any history of journalism you’ll find what we consider ‘investigative journalism’ to be very much an exception rather than the rule in most journalism. In fact you could argue it is exceptional by definition. Is it dead? From a global perspective, if you look at the number of investigative journalism organisations being established, you could say it actually looks very healthy. From a UK perspective, it’s mainly moving out of the newsroom and into the freelance world, into the world of activist organisations, and onto the web. It is by no means dead at all.

Is the modern journalist simply someone who collects information that already exists and puts it all together to form “news,” rather than discovering things for themselves. Is this sort of thing journalism?

This is a curious question, and I’ll try not to take it too literally because the language is unclear. I think you’re talking about the reprocessing of easy content rather than the ‘unearthing’ of it, and I think the answer is twofold: firstly, even after all the layoffs we’ve got more journalists than we ever had up until around 10-20 years ago, and that expansion of the media in recent times has seen the employment of a lot of ‘processors’ – that doesn’t mean we have fewer journalists who ‘dig’. Secondly, the availability of information has changed, as I outline in part 6 of the 21st century newsroom linked above. Your question betrays a discourse of ‘discovering things for themselves’ which needs to be critically addressed. If information that previously had to be ‘discovered’ is now more publicly available because of the web, is that information less valid?

Let me give a concrete example: does the fact that a journalist can use Google to find a government document rather than go to the library change anything about journalism?

The idea of ‘journalism’ is a complex one that covers everything from live reporting to opinion, analysis, interviewing, document analysis, editing and plenty else besides. And I’m not sure how important the question of ‘what is journalism’ is unless we’re trying to pretend it’s something amazing which, really, it isn’t.

With the advance of community journalism, twitter and the like, do we still need journalists?

I’m assuming you mean professionally paid ones? Probably yes. If we look at why the job arose in the first place it was because of a commercial and political need for information. Even with information overload that need still exists – either as a filter of all of that information, or someone who gathers the information that isn’t being gathered, or who compiles it and presents context.


1 thought on “FAQ: has the role of the journalist changed? (and other questions)

  1. Pingback: Does ease of access to information make journalism redundant? | DavidNews - a jotter pad for journalism.

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