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    • CommentTimeAug 10th 2008
    I heard a quote on the radio, regarding the tight reigns on international media output in China during the games. I'm paraphrasing, but it went along the lines of "It gives a voice to those who don't have any say. And that's the real essence of journalism." But is it, really?

    Its a noble sentiment certainly, and I definitely feel that its a vital part of any moral civilisation. But calling that "Journalism" just doesn't quite sit right with me. My own concept of Journalism is that it should be closer to a hard science, if anything. A direct conversion of events into language, without emotional investment, leaving the audience to make up their minds for themselves. A pure presentation of the facts is more the essence of Journalism. What the person who made the above statement is talking about is closer to opinion editorial. Which I'm not arguing should be abolished, I just think Journalism is not a word that sould be used to quite the "umbrella" extent that it is.

    We all know Spider's take on the subject, in that "used right, journalism is a gun aimed at the kneecap of the world" (again, paraphrasing*), but what are your thoughts on the word? The exact concept you envision when you hear the term Journalism? Feel free to shut me up if I'm alone in the sentiment, or if its a pointless topic. Its just had my attention all morning, is all.

    *If anyone is able to provide that exact quote of Spider's, I'd appreciate it. My own copies of Transmet are still in storage 4000km away...
      CommentAuthorJeff Owens
    • CommentTimeAug 10th 2008
    I think of Hunter S. Thompson when I hear the term. I still haven't read any of his books, though. I suppose that makes me a hypocrite, or something of that nature.

    Truly, when I think of what journalism should be, I think of sort of a combination of the radio quote and of your idea of journalism. I think to go in and get solid facts that the other "journalists" aren't uncovering and present them in a matter-of-fact way is great, but then I feel like there is no way to avoid it being personal. I mean, what facts are they trying to look into, and why? I wonder if many journalists go (by choice) in to research something meaningless to them. Furthermore, if you are writing about something very tragic, it will be hard to not get emotionally involved, to some extent.

    That being said, maybe that is what makes good journalism so rare. Maybe you do have to keep your emotions out of it. I don't really know. these are just the first thoughts I spewed out in response to your question. (Not checked for grammar or spelling...)
  1.  (3263.3)
    Oh my goodness...this thread makes me giddy on the inside. I'm a dorky Journalism major in college so I love talking about this stuff.

    The Oxford American Dictionary's definition of Journalism is:
    "the activity or profession of writing for newspapers or magazines or of broadcasting news on radio or television."

    While true, the definition is SO broad and doesn't even begin to address the social, cultural and political aspects of Journalism. And even though I love Hunter Thompson and his work I don't believe Gonzo Journalism is "proper" Journalism. Good reporting requires a large amount of removing oneself from the subject you're writing/speaking while still completely immersing yourself in it.

    I'm ranting.

    Basically I believe that Journalism doesn't have a concrete definition (aside from what the Dictionary says). Sometimes it requires people to put aside their own personal beliefs for the sake of fair reporting for the public. Sometimes it requires cutting certain parts of a story out and kissing the ass of your editor just to get your byline in the paper. It's a balance that every individual has to find. Finding said balance is a sensitive art which is why Journalism/reporting/journalists are so taboo these days. In my opinion, Journalism requires the ability to go out in public and spend extended periods of time talking to complete strangers as well as the ability to sit alone for hours in the dark (or is that just me?) and write and rewrite something until your eyes start bleeding and the words don't make sense anymore.
  2.  (3263.4)
    @ Adam - I don't think it's a pointless topic. It's a very good topic, and one that deserves serious consideration. And good for you for picking up the lightning rod that this topic could very well become.

    I like your thoughts about journalism and hard science, I really do, but in practice, I find it very, very hard. I've been writing at a local newspaper here in Hicktopia for almost four years (oh God kill me) and every day, it gets harder and harder to be objective. However, I don't think that's always a bad thing.

    Since I started out as a writer and not a "journalist," I never found objectivity to be my strong suit, and I found it easier to get personal with a story, whether it was through my direct involvement or through the involvement of the people I was writing about. As time passed, my direct involvement became more welcome in stories, and readers responded well to it. Personal, man-on-the-street "journalism" works on some levels, especially when you're the only person around doing it. It makes your stories unique. But, on the other hand, you can get far too involved in something for your own good. Two examples, if you don't mind my ranting (sorry for the length):

    One) I spent a good deal of time promoting the development of wind turbine farms in my area. I took it upon myself to promote the idea, because all my investigations lead me to believe in the safe, renewable benefits. And then seven of them fell apart, with 100-foot-long pieces of fiberglass raining down from the sky. I was the first person there, and the only person with pictures, but I got dismissed as a quack by the company. My story was pretty big, and could have been huge, but it got swept under the rug, and I contributed to it by providing my original position. Had I been more objective, who knows?

    Two) After the local "historical association" leaving a "local landmark" to rot for 15 years, the neighborhood tried hard to get the thing torn down. I was on the side of the neighbors, because no one should have to live next to a monstrosity like this, filled with rats and other vermin. That it fell by the wayside because the owner, the president of said "historical association" was in prison for child molestation and has been frequently accused of embezzling the funds donated to the association certainly didn't engender me to their cause. The group had disbanded, the leader was in jail, and the only person who didn't want to see the thing town down didn't have to live next to it and proclaimed it a "historically significant landmark," the summer home of Andrew Carnegie.

    It wasn't. I proved it, and did so right around the time I got into the building and took enough pictures to get the thing condemned in any other sane universe.

    Still, the fight wore on, the child molester and got out of jail and teamed up with the local activist, and the National Park Service had some experts check the building out to see if it could be restored. It could, but not without several million dollars, and still more millions to make it into the "museum" that the newly restored historical association (made up of members who live a minimum ten miles from the town) wanted.

    In this situation, I remained objective in my writing. I told the facts, and I did the research. A minimum of $2.4 million to restore a house that has no actual historical significance. All fact. The issue gets swept under the rug, and the township supervisors who were all set to burn the damn thing down keep giving the association more and more time, leaving the residents stuck next to a fire hazard and rat trap for another year. Had I been less objective, who knows?

    I guess I'm just not using journalism the way Spider would want me to, or I just have shitty aim. But, once in a while, I was making a difference by being unique in my approach to journalism, albeit not a objective one. Now, with the advent of new media, "journalism" is no longer the pure science that we would like it to be. When everyone involved in something now has access to an audience, the way you write something has to change. You have to find a way to make it unique, and maybe the only way to do that in a few years (or less) will be to be the only objective one out there.

    Hope that made sense, and sorry for the length again.
    • CommentTimeAug 10th 2008 edited
    That was a brilliant illustration, actually. Although I hold my concept of Journalism to be such a pure shining essence of vitality, I completely agree that it just can't possibly be executed in every circumstance, either as a result of "real-world pandering" to get the story into print, or because the story matter is so deeply affecting that it just can't be translated into language without emotional meaning being attached...

    Also, @SJO, that off-the-hip immediate response was kinda what I was hoping for -- the less carefully considered an answer is, often the more honest it is :)
  3.  (3263.6)
    I always think of journalism in relation to editorializing and blogging. I see journalism as presenting factual accounts of the world to others. Writing is probably involved, but need not be the medium. When one presents an opinion on the facts, it becomes editorializing, as in the case of Olbermann, Dobbs, O’Reilly, etc.. I guess that there should be a third category for bloggers who do nothing but copy and paste tidbits and links, but I don’t want to derail this thread by getting into that.

    I also think that for one’s effort to qualify as journalism, the topic must be non-ordinary events. For example, reporting on the war between Russia and Georgia is journalism, but reporting about people who do nothing special and are of absolutely no consequence outside of their little lives is not journalism—“This American Life” is not journalism.
    • CommentAuthorfn
    • CommentTimeAug 10th 2008 edited
    An attempt at the accurate rendition of facts for unrestrictive reception regardless of medium or the nature of said facts. But that definition misses out on the importance of the delivery of said facts in a easily digestible manner and the word in itself seems to have lost it's subtext of civic duty that this definition binds it to, if it ever had it.

    Journalism in the end might be a 20th century concept since centralized communication and facts distribution was a necessity back when communication networks where hard to set up leading to restrictions in information flow. In that form it might as well be a gun. These days anyone can act as a receiver and a transmitter of information while mobile, we just don't have the social structure to have a reason to make use of this logistic capability. These days we don't need to close our televisions to stop hearing someones opinion or stop reading the paper, we can change the channel and we can become a channel.

    We need a new word for what we can do now that we have the capability , it's partly rendition of facts, partly organization and partly a sharing of opinions, working not so much as a weapon to direct public thought but as logistics through which people can direct their own actions and communicate. It's always been there on one level or another, working every element of itself through different mediums, and it just doesn't have a word to call itself by now that all the elements can be driven through one medium.

    I doubt you support the implementation of those specific windmills from that specific company installed by some specific workers. Either way journalism ended when the company refused to give out the story. As for the "local landmark" , you did your job, you gave out the facts and no one did anything with it or you didn't reach the right people, it was out of your hands as far as journalism goes. If you have something you care for, then get in the there and make a mark, but it might be best if you leave journalism out of the toolbox for fighting your fights, journalism turned into a gun once doesn't go back to being journalism, you pick a side and the readers pick you and you turn it into a platform, not a bad thing but it cannot be called journalism. Admittedly in that kind of situation it might be that it's not journalism that is needed but you work for a company and if you become a platform then it will be their platform, as shown in the first example you gave.
    edit: i seem to have trouble telling posts apart
  4.  (3263.8)
    @ James - But even the hardcore, high-placed journalists now consider "blogging" to be the true essence of journalism. Hell, if I hear NBC's Chuck Todd talk about "what the bloggers think" one more time, I'll probably light my television on fire with a combination of gasoline and sparks from my grinding teeth, which would be a damn shame.

    I dislike blogging being considered journalism because, really, it's not, but I'm in the minority. I agree that it's not even editorializing, either, but that's all some bloggers really do. They find a subject, tell you what to think, and even the New York Times pays them to do it. No offense to bloggers, because there are good ones out there, writers and journalists who embrace the new media, but the instant accessibility to any subject at any time seems to be keeping people from taking personal responsibility and forming their own opinions, which is what lies at the heart of pure, unadulterated journalism.

    @ fn
    working not so much as a weapon to direct public thought but as logistics through which people can direct their own actions and communicate

    But, when you offer truth to the world, you'd be surprised how many people decide not to listen. Hell, we teach Orwell to kids in school, and they just go home and hand themselves over to Big Brother without a thought, but that's another rant for another day. I agree with what you say from a purely journalistic standpoint, and your definition of the concept of journalism is well thought-out. I think you're probably right when you say that what we think of as journalism will end with what the kids are calling the 20th Century, but I don't believe we're replacing it with anything better, and I think that's wrong. Journalism, like writing, comics, movies and more, should evolve as an art as the times change, not be tossed to the curb.

    Anyone ever read Steve Perry's Spindoc? While not the sole purpose of the book, the main character's profession seems to be the way journalism is heading, and that's a scary thought.
  5.  (3263.9)
    The term 'Journalism' goes along with the word 'Truth', and that makes it a very difficult thing to define for most people, I believe. Thoughts?
    • CommentTimeAug 10th 2008 edited
    I like blogging as journalism when it's approached as journalism in a modern format, rather than the slinging of opinions because you have the technology and can and calling it New Journalism. It isn't. If a blog is going to be a journalistic outlet, it needs to be approached in the same fashion - with sources and such. Writing for The Blog is akin to writing for The Newspaper, and blah blah blah.


    Someone mentioned wondering about journalists researching and writing topics that are meaningless to them. Personally, I do it all the time. I work for a small daily newspaper in The Middle of Nowhere, Alberta and I am interested by, sadly more often than not, just about nothing here. Impartial is easy - I'm sourcing, writing and whatever else for deadline and possibly for an open spot in my portfolio, but not nearly as often for personal satisfaction.

    Which isn't to say I don't write about things that interest me. I do, but I still have a job to do regardless of whether I find that assignment on that day. The job is more or less to accurately portray a moment in time with a little bit of style. It needn't be a moment that resonates with me, and perhaps it's for the better if it doesn't.
    • CommentAuthorfn
    • CommentTimeAug 10th 2008
    Journalism is paid for, it is asked for, if people don't act on the information like you think they should it is not the fault of journalism, but you might need to consider future safety precautions and maybe moving somewhere safer.

    What i usually see these days is largely bad journalism and editorializing, i think bloging can be journalism but the personal, vague and hobbyist nature of most blog makes people spout out opinions and very little facts. Better organization, clearer goals, maybe the creation of a communal anonymous blog might help, but there is also the problem of payment, journalism is something which rarely benefits the journalist and never in the short term, payment is necessary. This is the problem of the internet medium as new logistics backbone as well, we have no reason for it, we have no reason to pay for accurate journalism, location is still more important that shared goals or ideology, distance is still more limiting than bandwidth. Mostly a problem of mentality, organization is a luxury which only armies, governments and corporations seem to be able to afford.

    If it does adapt my bet is that it will be in the wiki style rather than the blog. Something more in the lines of the CIA in Snow Crash rather than advertisement funded opinion of the week.
    • CommentTimeAug 11th 2008
    Real Journalism is what the science of history used to be in the time of Herodot:

    We exist in a bubble of living memory. All second-hand accounts are suspect. Nothing written down can be trusted. Recount only what you have seen yourself and what you have been told by witnesses. When all witnesses are dead or unavailable, the event fades into myth.
    • CommentTimeAug 11th 2008
    Spent some time in print journalism, currently working in sports production and the shooting/editing side of TV journalism, here's my take...

    The root of early print journalism is writing in a personal journal. There's a fantastic example in Bram Stoker's Dracula (which I acknowledge is fiction); it uses a very I-was-here-and-this-happened approach. Ultimately, that's it. The reporter was there, and is writing about what happened. Over time, the trade of journalism evolved to better reflect what people expected of journalism and wanted to read. Out of this evolution came the inverted-pyramid format we're so used to, the focus on fact, the role of the editor, etc etc.

    In TV, this only intensifies, because you're looking at actual images and sounds recorded where it happened. It's much more "real", because you can see it, right there, on the other side of the screen. At the same time, it's much more transient and unmemorable, because (barring TiVo) you can't read it at your leisure. It's here and gone again. It washes over you and past you.

    The essence of journalism, I think, is recording events impersonally, with accountability, institutional memory and the benefit of an editor.

    This is something that there will always be a market for. "Citizen-journalism" blogs do a great job of getting you a man-on-the-street perspective, but they often don't have institutional memory, don't have an editor, and aren't as accountable for what they're saying. Blogs aren't destroying traditional journalism, IMO -- they're a just new market for information.

    @Adam -- I see what you're saying with "hard science", but that'll remove the humanity that people ultimately want from the news. Underneath the surface of facts, you consume news because you want to know what's going on from people who were there. The people part is underemphasized in journalism, but still important, IMO.

    @radicaldoubt, justineger -- I feel for you guys. It's stuff like that that's got me into doing the shooting and editing for TV news. You start to get into it and you start to care so much, and then it's the people themselves that make you wonder why. I've still got that news itch, but I just can't do it with writing. So I point a camera and a pretty TV person at it.

    @Val A Lindsay II -- I wouldn't call it difficult. Journalism is the truth of a situation, as best recorded by the journalist. If it turns out that truth isn't present in a story, or journalist, or network, then the accountability I mention above comes into play. Stephen Glass types get fired, Fox-esque networks get branded, and blogs get ignored.
    • CommentTimeAug 11th 2008
    I've always felt there's a difference between "reporting" - the parade of facts, with no subjective feelings (positive, negative, or just enthusiasm for the subject), more often than not toeing the line for a publisher or government - and "journalism", a dogged-attempt to get at and report the facts, and hang the consequences.
  6.  (3263.15)
    This is something that there will always be a market for. "Citizen-journalism" blogs do a great job of getting you a man-on-the-street perspective, but they often don't have institutional memory, don't have an editor, and aren't as accountable for what they're saying. Blogs aren't destroying traditional journalism, IMO -- they're a just new market for information.

    I'd disagree with this somewhat the bit about not being as accountable. Single people are just as easy to sue for libel as large organisations, and if people print lies then their reputation will take a hit. Where bloggers get away with things is (a) they have much smaller audiences and (b) people who are libelled realise that in most cases the actual damage done is trivial.

    If you were to have a blogger that had the same circulation as a national paper, then you'd see them getting sued as much as mainstream media.

    Blogging is not journalism, but it does help journalists (particularly lazy journalists) to find the things that are worth writing about. And, of course, provide video and photos of spontaneous events as they happen (e.g. 7/7 bombings).
    • CommentTimeAug 11th 2008
    Blogging is not journalism, but it does help journalists (particularly lazy journalists) to find the things that are worth writing about. And, of course, provide video and photos of spontaneous events as they happen (e.g. 7/7 bombings).

    I don't think you can be as sweeping as saying that blogging is not journalism. There's some fine journalism out there on the web, it's just that the writers have, for one reason or another, chosen/been forced to present their journalism through blogs. Perhaps they couldn't stomach the conglomerated media ownership, or didn't have the money to go through journalism school? Saying that blogging isn't journalism is like saying Freak Angels isn't comics.
    • CommentTimeAug 11th 2008
    I don't think journalism should even be considered an exact science. Although, on a philosophical level, I am prepared to accept the notion of an objective truth (say a sequence of events with a "timestamp" in space-time) I feel that when it comes to reporting events "objectivism" shatters. Consider a nature documentary on a forest. Even if it is simply collected video footage from cameras placed there, which have been edited to a one hour film with a voice over detailing the life in a forest - the cameras where still placed at a certain place, a certain height. And it was cut in a certain way. So already here we have a few certain angles, a few cuts etc. This is already an edited view. It is not totally objective.

    This view is of course ridiculous, I grant you that, but it does serve as a simple reminder of that if we demand total objectivism, how would we go about creating it?

    So I feel that journalism, the way it currently is being practiced, is fine - providing we always keep in mind that the news are subjective. They do take stand for a cause, or if not that they do NOT take a stand on a certain cause. This omission in itself is already an opinion expressed. So the question becomes to educate all readers that this is our view. Those people, they have their view, but ours is this.

    Journalism as such may very well be a thing of the 20th century. And maybe blogging and instant information will be the journalism of the 21st century, with the blogger being the journalist, editor and publisher in one - depending of course on the blog/site where the news blog is posted. This remains to be seen.

    However I feel that with instant information and thousands of people blogging about the news is a step in the right direction. Of course hard facts and proof loose value, but it need not be that way. Good news bloggers will always copy and retain their sources, as well as make them available for their readers. And if blogs where written wiki-style, we would have constant documentation of the changes being made to a certain item of news. And thus journalistic reporting turns into an ongoing progress - one where a blogger might first report on a link to a item of news, then writing his opinion on it, re-writing it, etc. And the readers are all left to make their own mind. Or blog about it.

    So in a way, we have total Gonzo immersion into journalism. Everybody inserts their own view into the reporting procedure. Everybody is part of the news.

    Those are my views from the top of my head...
    • CommentTimeAug 11th 2008
    @Reynolds -- I'd have to agree with you on paper, but not in practice. There are blogs of that size -- dailykos and Huffington Post come to mind -- but a quick Wikipedia check doesn't reveal any lawsuit activity. I was thinking more of anonymous voices like Parker Peters or ea-spouse: no editors, no paying customers or shareholders, and their only qualifications are their Internet connections. But they're excellent citizen journalists.

    That being said, yes, blog accountability is still certainly possible! If you google "Sony Blackballs Kotaku", you'll find an incident where a blog was held as accountable as I've ever seen, and still stood the test.
  7.  (3263.19)
    don't think you can be as sweeping as saying that blogging is not journalism. There's some fine journalism out there on the web, it's just that the writers have, for one reason or another, chosen/been forced to present their journalism through blogs.

    Yeah, apologies - I am making a sweeping statement because... well... on the internet everything is true and so there are those exceptions that you mention. If you look at the X million blogs that technorati tracks it is a really small amount that are journalistic. I guess that it's just me pushing back against the idea that 'blogs are the new journalism' which is blatantly untrue and this is something that I've had to deny being when it is a question that has been levelled at me.

    I am not a journalist, I'm a blogger. There is a difference, but it isn't a value judgement.

    (And if I can be perhaps slightly anal for a moment - isn't a journalist someone with a degree in journalism, or who is employed as a journalist?)

    So perhaps the better way to put my point across is that there are journalists who are bloggers, but the vast majority of bloggers aren't journalists.
    • CommentTimeAug 11th 2008
    easy: not Fox News.

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