Wednesday, 28 March 2012

What is journalism? What are journalists? (a post J-leaders ramble)



My poor neglected blog. It's been weeks since I've had the head-space to sit down and write out some thoughts.
But I have been saving items that made me think a lot, for when I did have some time. Things like this tweet...  
which sums up my exact same feelings on the subject of citizen journalism definitions and made me recall there was an interesting set of notes in my Google Docs I should take a look at. 

In February I was at UCLan as part of the Journalism Leaders course residential week, slogging towards my MA (hence not having the headspace to blog) which included a discussion of what is a journalist, during a session led by Megan Knight. 
I made copious notes as it's a Moibus Strip of a theme in which the multiple definitions are conveniently twisted to fit one's own view. 
These are some of the jottings I made during and after the session; I kept thinking about it for days afterwards and I'm still intrigued by it, particularly Pierre Borudieu aspect, of which more later
The question of who is a journalist comes back to what is journalism. 
Defining these two aspects needs to examine the fundamental principles of the industry, the skill and the individual. It is far more than platform v platform and is probably the definitive response to Are Bloggers Journalists?
It's a cyclical question that looks like this:
How do you identify someone who is a Journalist?
* From employment? (what about the freelance/unemployed who worked in media)
* From education? (Journalists who find citizen journalism threatening are focusing on the lack of education. The type of education that people have access to can also be a class issue)
* From outputs? (what are the outputs? Is a film reviewer a journalist? Eg. I believe my blog contains writing about journalism rather than journalism itself. But as my posts contain information I've investigated, or data I've interrogated others might define that as journalism)
* From self-identification or association with a body Eg. The NUJ? (In China, journalists have to be registered. People writing about their communities and local news are not termed journalists in any way).
So, journalism is not a profession but most journalists would say it is. Journalism also creates journalism in its own image . 
Those are some of my verbatim notes. Questions I also noted down during the session included: Do people become what their industry needs them to be? Do they subsume their own personality traits, inclinations and/or ethics to become what the identity of their employer needs them to be?  
The answer to all of the above is yes, I would suggest. And by ethics I don't mean phone hacking, I mean things like being sent out on a death knock - an occasion when you know you aren't exactly adding to anyone's sum of joy - and doing it anyway.
 
The identity of the journalism product is more important than the identity of the person - such as the editor - associated with it. 
The personalities change all the time, but the product has been a constant (although that is changing now, of course. Consider the Liverpool Daily Post's shift to a weekly

During the session we discussed the idea that as journalism dis-aggregates and digital disruption becomes more commonplace, editing becomes more about the human function - getting the right people in the right jobs; becoming more responsible for the commercial aspects of the business. (This is probably going to form part of my MA research topic). 

All this led to the introduction of Pierre Bourdieu's theories and the idea of Social Capital. 
I'd never heard of Bourdieu before this, but I really connect with his idea that a person has social capital within their Field and their Habitus is designed to increase that social capital. 
Most of us are far more focused on the Field, because it increases the social capital among our peers. We go after stories (we become active and visible on social media too, I would contend) partly to maintain our status in society. 
And as well as the idea of social captial, I think online social networks have allowed journalists to change their Field as well - it's provided a huge opportunity for people to break out of the 'journalists writing for journalists' trap we've all fallen into at one time or another.

What do online networks mean for the Tribe of Journalists and peer pressure? Your peers may be sat next to you, but they may also be on the other side of the world, sharing their views with you. 
If people have a different Habitus as a result of no longer being inside their Field as much, where do their loyalties lie?

I think that would mean journalists adept at using social tools are less likely to fall into the trap of writing for other journalists. 
I suspect they are closer to their audience not just because they talk to them online but because their online spaces are now their Habitus, and their Field - the group they are writing for - is significantly larger and more disparate.

A final thought. As we were debating what is a journalist the news broke that Marie Colvin had been killed in Syria. So, perhaps the short answer to What is a Journalist is: She was.


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