If you read the literature on journalism’s professional ideology – or just follow any argument about journalists-versus-the-rest-of-the-world – you’ll notice particular themes recurring.
Like any profession, journalism separates itself from other fields of work through articulating how it is different. Reading Mark Deuze’s book Media Work recently I was struck by how a similar, parallel, ideology is increasingly articulated by bloggers. And I wanted to sketch that out.
First, two disclaimers: I am not claiming that bloggers are a coherent body any more than journalists are. Blogging is of course not a profession, and many bloggers do not make any claims beyond their own personal beliefs.
What I am exploring here is a common ideology that a particular contingent of bloggers expresses when attacked by journalists, or when attacking professional journalism.
One of the reasons this parallels journalism’s professional ideology may be because the arguments are often made in response to that exact ideology: journalists argue that bloggers are not objective; bloggers counter by arguing that journalists are not transparent, and so on.
Secondly, this is not based on any systematic research, but rather reflecting on ongoing analysis over the past few years. I’m putting this up for discussion and as a basis for further research, rather than suggesting it is the finished article.
Ideology 1: Public service vs accountability
The journalist’s claim is that they are performing a public service, whether that is informing the public, holding power to account, giving a voice to the voiceless (or the ‘voice of the people’), providing a forum for public discussion, or something else.
Bloggers articulate a similar ideology: that they are directly accountable to the public through their comments and the ability of others to direct them in how they ‘serve’.
The journalist’s public service is top-down; the blogger’s, bottom-up.
Ideology 2: Objectivity vs transparency
This is a long-running debate that I barely have to articulate, as it is easily the most prominent ideological battle that has taken place between journalists and bloggers. But here it is: journalists say they are objective while bloggers are subjective. Bloggers argue that any claim to objectivity is flawed, that the grounds for it (limited access to publication) no longer apply, and that in the age of the link transparency is their own badge of honour. Journalists who do not link to their sources, who take credit for the work of others, and who fail to declare interests are all targets in this battle.
Ideology 3: Autonomy vs non-commercial
A part of journalism’s ideology that is employed much less often in defending the profession is its autonomy: the fact that journalists are independent of government and that there is a church/state separation between advertising and content.
Bloggers articulate a similar argument around their very non-professionalism: because we do not rely on advertising or cover sales, say the bloggers, we enjoy more independence than journalists. We do not need to chase ratings or circulations; we do not need to worry about the institutional voice, or offending advertisers.
Ideology 4: Immediacy vs ‘Publish then filter’
The fourth aspect of journalism’s ideology identified by Deuze is ‘immediacy’, that is, journalists’ desire to be first to report the news.
Bloggers have their own version of ‘immediacy’, however, which is that they ‘publish, then filter’, allowing users to act as their editors (or ‘curators’) rather than being constrained by any editorial production line.
It’s notable that as journalists’ claims to immediacy come under particular challenge in an age where anyone can publish and distribute information, some journalists and news organisations are re-orienting themselves towards a role of ‘curation’, and using the ideology of ‘editorial process’ to defend themselves against the new entrants.
Ideology 5: Ethics vs ethical
This is a line that has always fascinated me. Journalists frequently employ their professional ‘ethics’ as a defence against the incursion of the blogging barbarians. But if journalists were so ethical, why are they consistently one of the least trusted professions?
Journalistic ethics are explicitly declared in documents such as the NUJ’s Code of Conduct, individual organisations’ own statements of principles, and even journalists’ contracts, while organisations such as the PCC act to further enforce behaviour.
Similar attempts to create a code of ethics for bloggers have been met with objections – for reasons not too dissimilar to the reasons that journalists do not want their profession to be professionalised: it would limit access, and provide an opportunity for governments to control the medium.
But bloggers are fiercely ethical. How is difficult to pin down – the transparency ideology outlined above is part of that, and many elements are shared with the ethics asserted by journalism: protecting sources, for instance. But broadly this ideology is one that is held in opposition to the worst excesses of journalism: bloggers would argue that they do not resort to underhand tactics in pursuit of a story: exploiting vulnerable people, passing off others’ work as their own, or pretending to be someone else.
What have I missed?
There may be other themes that I have missed – or examples of the above (after I wrote a first draft of this, Jay Rosen published his own selection of quotes here, some of which I have linked to above). It may be that journalism’s own ideology is changing in response to these challenges (as it seems to be regarding immediacy vs curation). I’d love to know what you think – or if you know of any research in the area (some here and here).
UPDATE: More from Jay on this in 2008.
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The objectivity defense always cracks me up. Why don’t journalists give more time to cover the people who think the Earth is flat or that gravity is a government conspiracy? Objectivity is just veiled bias wrapped in elitism.
I believe you may have missed a contentious distinction between journalists and investigative journalists, and also a general public perception (surely unfair) that bloggers are mostly sendentary and crude. That’s probably where your two disclaimers and research remit come in handy. Compelling stuff, thanks.
Perhaps there is something you could say on originality as ideology?
At it’s best, journalism has something original to say, or at least elements of originality (quotes, observations, facts etc). But it purports to originality far more than blogging, where a completely valid blog post may consist of: I’ve spotted something interesting on subject x over there, here’s an excerpt and a link, and there you go.
However, as so many papers copy and paste off each other, churn press releases and so on, journalism’s claim to originality is trashed on a daily basis – it’s a joke, to be honest.
I think blogging has never suffered that same identity crisis – bloggers can be original, or they can aggregate and point to interesting stuff – there’s no rule book. Journalists are meant to do more, and be original (even if they aren’t).
It’s a good point – and interesting that Deuze doesn’t mention that. As you say, it’s a difficult claim to maintain!
Journalism has probably had it. People used to have to beg editors to publish things or pray that their letters were published. We had to get permission, Now we just publish. It’s the same for all media. Make your own movie. Record your ownm music. Working in PR I get many calls form journalists follwing up things they’ve read on blogs. Blogging, twittering, facebooking is faster than journalism. And see how much mobile phone footage makes the TV news these days. Add to this the Murdoch axis and people like me start thinking that the media don’t just support the neo-con porject, they are the neo-con project. Nearly all my reading is blogs now.
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If I want to stay up to date on health, science, information and computer technology I have no choice but to rely on blogs and websites via RSS feeds and Twitter. When those topics make it to the news (printed or TV) it is either commercially influenced, a simple copy/paste of a press-release, lacking details and sources or flawed.
Blogging isn’t without its flawsl but after a while you will learn which blogs are trustworthy; just keep an eye on the comments.
“There is a church/state separation between advertising and content”..I call bullshit.
Remember I’m talking about ideology, not reality!
The main problem with journalism is their refusal to replace ideology driven (propaganda) stories with factual accurate ones. Bloggers are willing to share why they say what they say (transparancy) and more importantly believe that is how quality reporting is maintained.Details here:
I don’t get the clash thing. In Barnet I talk regularly with the press. Local papers are so stretched for resources that it is impossible for their journalists to cover all of the issues. In Barnet, bloggers have got the time and the motivation to dig out stories, to analyse data and to give a comprehensive response. The local free papers have to include a high ratio of adverts and they don’t have the space to cover all the stories. I have given stories to the papers when they need a much wider circulation – I’m not precious and I don’t have financial targets to reach. Journalists and bloggers can happily co-exist but what we must have is a way for the public to understand more about the place and community where they live.
Like I say, this is less about what journalists and bloggers do, but about what they say: how they talk about themselves and their work. Many journalists and bloggers collaborate very nicely, but they can still have differing views of why and how they work.
I think this is where you are headed anyway but…
…I reckon the real challenge to the immediacy of journalism was not some bloggers’ decision to ‘publish then filter’ but the tendency for some bloggers (and particularly these days Twitter users) to ‘publish then verify’ (with or without attribution to source). Although it does vary depending on the nature of the information, this practice is now widespread in online journalism in an attempt to address that challenge and retain journalism’s dominance in reporting news first.
Journalism is justifying this change in approach by arguing that it will responsibly inform you how much of the published material is verified or the nature of its verification. See for example Matthew Eltringham’s discussion of the ‘line of verification’ (http://bbc.in/eL9sMy).
Journalists’ pretense that they are a public service rather than a means of attracting advertising is why there is a conflict with the ethics. It is the profession where no ethical principal cannot be thrown out of the window as expedient, and one where this ethical defenestration can sometimes occur several times in a day and is never punished.
Is this then not the real difference? Bloggers don’t have to pretend they are one thing yet be forced to be another. A blogger has no need to hide political partisanship if such is their game, yet journalists on newspapers which are obviously biased have to make risible claims of objectivity even to themselves.
The freedom from having to pretend is the only difference. The rest are just derivations of that.
Nice piece here on journos at the recent Christchurch earthquake by the way.
A good point. The behaviour of journalists during the Christchurch disaster was often predatory, exploitative and damaging to the reputation of the profession.
It appears to me that enforcement of the journalistic ethical principles is a toothless tiger.
Technology is shifting the paradigm and the balance of power in information control, transparency and accountability towards consumers and away from professions. This applies to bloggers and journalists in the commercial and not-for-profit sectors. Journalism done well will progress with technology, journalism done poorly will wither when exposed to the sun.
We all have our biases and assumptions. Best to be open and let readers judge the worth themselves.
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