Journalism and Journalists


Coming to a close, this Comms239 class has truly taught me what journalism is and who journalists are.  Looking back at my very first blog post, surprisingly my first opinion of journalists was pretty spot on; however, I have learned to a much deeper level what being a journalist consists of.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary states journalism as:

the collection and editing of news for presentation through the media.
Furthermore, that journalists are people who engage in journalism.  This definition is true, but it only touches the mere surface of what journalism really is and who journalists really are.  Journalism is merely the news, and news is written by journalists.
Bill Moyers gives the perfect description:
“News is what people want to keep hidden.”
Journalism is telling people the truth about what is going on in the world.  It is giving people the important issues–letting people know, not what to think, but what to think about.  Journalism requires the best journalists who can give the truth while staying objective and intriguing.
Journalists are not merely writers who work for the New York Times, they must qualify to fit the criteria of a journalist.  Journalists must be objective, stating the truth without biased.  They must also make sure to use reliable sources so the public can learn to trust their information.  While news is news, a journalists’ job is not only to report the current events.  A journalist must make the significant interesting!  Nobody wants to read a boring news article; it must be relevant to the average citizen’s life otherwise they couldn’t care less about it.  A journalist needs to fit the pieces together into the bigger context of life: why does this matter?  It is the journalist’s job to give the public that answer.
In accordance with the above requirements of a journalist, they must also balance what the public wants to hear and what they need to hear.  After all, a journalists’ first loyalty is to you: the reader.  They must give you what  you want but also what you need.  This is where infotainment comes into play.  Making the significant interesting can play into entertainment, but while also giving them the information they need.  Journalists must find that balance of too much infotainment, because too much of the entertainment factor can distract from what’s important and only leaves the audience wanting more.  A good metaphor is that too much ice cream makes you sick of sweets, or only leaves you wanting the next best flavor.  There is never a compromise sticking with the same ice cream; news is the same.  This is why there are many flavors, or sections, or a magazine or newspaper.  We need moderation in everything.
Bottom line: a journalist, yes, is someone who participates in journalism.  Going further than that, a journalist must fulfill all of their requirements in order to truly be considered a journalist.  If a NYTimes writer gives unreliable sources, fogging the line between truth and storytelling, they may not be a true journalist.  It’s a tough job.  A lot harder than I initially knew.   A journalist is in their field only because they love it.  They want the news first and they want to let people know what is going on!

Comprehensive and Proportional Journalism


Along with the infotainment factor I talked about in my previous post, now I will speak of how it fails in the longterm business sense.  Infotainment sounded like a great idea; however, if the people eat too much ice cream, they will get sick.  Here are some reasons it will not work longterm:

(1) If the public is only fed this infotainment news, that is all they will expect, so journalists would have to continually give them bigger and better which would be so hard to keep it newsworthy.

(2) Infotainment can destroy the news organization’s authority to deliver serious news. Trust in the news is a huge part of what journalists try to establish, so providing too much of an entertainment factor could ruin this effort.  Just as comedy is not taken seriously, journalism would not be either.

(3) Providing infotainment plays to the strengths of other media, not your own.  The other media types can cover the pure entertainment, journalists first duty is to give the public the truth.

Here is a hard job for journalists.  How do you find the correct balance between giving the public what they want and what they need?  How do you make it captivating and fascinating, without taking away from the original story?  Journalists do not want a boring news story because nobody listens when they become bored; I know this by experience.  When boredom hits, people stop listening and that is when communication fails.  Communication is the goal here, that is why journalism is a Communications major! The book claims journalist to be infotainment and story telling. Journalists are hired because they are good at this job.

Since I already spoke of much of this topic in the previous blog, I will talk briefly about the topic from the book, “Mind of a Journalist.” Along with the balance of storytelling and infotainment, journalists almost must find it difficult to balance being a part of the entertainment or news without being a type of celebrity themselves.  This is difficult if the journalist is well known because journalists do not want to change the scene by their presence.

“It is hard enough, they say, to separate news from entertainment without having journalists themselves thought of as part of the entertainment scene.” (Mind of a Journalist, 107)

It’s an extremely hard balance because those reporters that we do recognize and know well, can be known to be trustworthy so we look to them for the news.  I had never previously thought of them having a difficult time reaching the news because they are recognized.  Than again, the public trusts them so it may be a good thing when they show up to the scene because people know that certain journalist will deliver the truth.

On the other hand, if the public does not trust them and they are merely a face in the journalism world, that would indeed disrupt the job of journalists and news writing.  In addition to that problem, celebrity journalists usually like to focus on the celebrities. We have seen celebrity journalists since the start of journalism and it will not end now. As everything else, we must simply take them for how they are.  Know which ones are news worthy and which ones are more entertainment.

The Significant must be Interesting!


News is significant! Or, it is supposed to be… So journalists must make the news significant to their readers; put what is important in the paper and on the news!

What about storytelling? Should journalists emphasize the news that is entertaining and captivating or should they just stick to the news that is considered most important?  The great thing about this profession, is that journalism can be both!  Fascination and important news are two points on a continuum of communicating. We must find the significant interesting.

The reasons sometimes the public does not see this captivating news everyday, is because journalists can bet lazy.  Journalists can be in a hurry, ignorant, lazy, or just running short on time.  These factors are what make journalism difficult but that is where they must step up and deliver. After all, this is what journalism is about right?

Think about this… you are an average college-aged student who is trying to find out what is going on in the world.  Either you are getting very entertained by the news and love watching it but you still don’t really understand what is going on, or you are bored out of your mind listening to war bombings and senator disputes.  Which would you prefer?  Tough decision huh. Nobody likes to be bored, but everybody wants to know what significant things go on in the world and how they are affected by them.  Here is the beautiful thing: you don’t have to choose between the two.

Times are always changing, so journalists must keep up with the current or it will be left behind. Infotainment is the new trend in news. People want entertainment and important news so journalists must deliver both. This is the easiest form of news for people to understand and relate to.

Here are the approaches to make news writing more interesting:

  • Consider who the audience is. What do they need to know?
  • Use a narrative style
  • Write a profile story, an explanatory piece, an issues and trend story, and investigative piece, a descriptive day in the life, a perspective story, Q&A, or a visual story
  • Vary from the usual chronological order. Change it up!
  • The list goes on… Just be creative!

But also just remember.. “technique should never alter the facts.”

Journalism and Faith


What is the big deal about journalism and religion?  Here is the problem… we cannot ignore religion, because obviously it exists everywhere and it is a big deal, but it is also a very touchy subject to cover; so we must be extremely careful. In the minds of the public, there are also many misconceptions about religion.  People are very defendant about their religion, yet critical to the beliefs of others.  This is a problem because not only are there many different views, but people are passionate about their religion.  For a journalist covering certain faiths, there is really no way to be objective.  Religion is opinionated (for the most part), and there is no real proof about certain religions; religions are usually based on faith which cannot be proven.

“Journalism and religion is a tough mix. Religion depends on faith, and journalism demands proof.” –Jim Robertson, Columbia Daily Tribune

As far back as journalism and religion go, there has always been a tension between the two subjects and probably always will be.  The group which presented on this subject had many good quotes, one in particular fits perfectly with the point of objectivity in covering religious matters:

“It’s false that a reporter can unplug his ideology and somehow become neutral.” –Mattingly

This statement is completely true.  As hard as a journalist tries to become unaffected by religion, it cannot be done.  The principles you learn and grow up with stick with you and become a part of you.

So what do we do about this objectivity in religion problem?

The book recommends that we remember that the context is the key to the complete reporting of a story. For instance, if you are writing from a certain religion’s point of view or on a certain religion’s event, you can write about what they believe.  We must just make sure to let the public know it is in that specific point of view.  A journalist reporting about religion must shed light to the religion.  Let people know what the religions believe; clarify the misconceptions, but remember to report it as a news story.  We must not ever generate heat.

Another good bit of advice is to go directly to the source.  Reporting on a certain religion should require insight by a member of that specific faith.  Rumors start through the grapevine, so we must remember not to report on things we hear word-of-mouth.

If the public wants a specific religion’s point of view, there are places they can go for that.  Resources for religion writers include the RNA (Religion News-Writers Association), and Poynter Institute, and more.

In reality, “all news is religious news.” Religion is everywhere and impacts everyone.  A University of Rochester study found that religion is mentioned far more than it is in the subject of a story.  Religion is even used as criterion to identify people, like the press identifying a quote from Mitt Romney by saying, “Mormon Mitt Romney.”

Does all this talk of religion as a source of identification cause a stereotype?  Depending on how the audience receives the information, it can cause a stereotype.  Unless the public is more educated in aspects of religion, people will be affected by how people in a specific religion behaves, even if it is not in accordance to their faith.  That is where the journalist comes in: to shed light on the source of religion and clear the mixed air.

Although it is extremely difficult to write on a subject you may not believe in, sometimes that is what journalism requires.  I hope that a journalist can write religious stories based off of the view of the members of the faith instead of his or her view; that is the only way to make it non-biased.

A journalist must keep individuals and their actions separate.  If a religious purpose is a motive for somebody’s action, report it.  If it is not, leave religion out.  Nonetheless, we cannot ignore religion.  Simply state events as they are and be careful where boundaries lie.  If religion is involved, report it, if it is unimportant for a story, leave it out. This is how we avoid stereotypes and anger towards journalists.

Should a journalist be able to reject writing a story about anything they do not believe in? If the subject matter would cause the journalist to be biased, they should have every right to refuse the story.  A journalist should be expected to write it even if they do not agree, but if the journalist knows they would not be able to, that is their right to refuse–which would actually benefit the public as well.  Journalists must take themselves out of their own shoes and step into the shoes of others in order to understand and inform.

The fact is, religion exists.  Reporters must report on it, they cannot ignore it.  This is why journalists must be objective, informed, and understanding, in order to properly inform the rest of the world.

Journalism as a Public Forum


The 6th Principle of Journalism is:

Journalism must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.

Kovach and Rosentiel went further and stated that the sixth principle of the press is “an essential obligation of the craft, second only to telling the truth.”

What exactly is a public forum?  To be honest, I was not so sure at the start of this lesson, but I have learned that a public forum is  a place open to public expression and assembly.  This goes along with the 1st amendment. 

As citizens, we have a right to speak up and have our opinions heard.  In regards to the press, they work for us–so that means they must act as a public forum.  The principles of journalism all intertwine with each other to create the perfect source of news and public opinion.  There is so many different opinions in the world so how does the journalist handle all these views?  A journalist’s job is to be the mediator.  The process is as follows:

–> Journalists report news and information–> People start thinking–> the public reacts–> Community is filled with public voice–> Public voice is heart by people in power–> People in power understand and act on public opinion. (Then it goes back to the top).

By now, we all know that journalists must be objective.  Journalists’ objectivity help them to be the mediator or compromiser, just as the rest of the principles go hand-in-hand.  As a public forum, journalism must stick to these principles in order to stay factual and verified and reach out to everybody’s concerns. This is where journalism as a public forum becomes a bit more complicated–it must reach out to the broad areas of agreement, where most of the public resides and solutions can be found.

The reason journalism as a public forum is found more difficult today in particular, is 4 specific reasons:

  1. Talk is cheap.  Today, there are more talk shows than there are news rooms because talk shows are cheaper to broadcast and run.  Forums are being distorted as time goes on; blogs and comments are getting in the way with what people believe.  We need to remember to take blogs and rumors or opinions as opinions, not fact.
  2. Expertise is devalued. The example this group gave was of the public recognizing Ryan Seacrest as the new “New Year’s Face” instead of Dick Clark.  Years from now nobody will remember the legends as well as they remember who is popular now for their entertainment.
  3. Poor Media Diet.  The bulk of media that people consume is from entertainment.  This is why public forums are also devalued because it seems as though people simply do not care anymore.  News is not as cared for, or possibly just not believed.
  4. Nature of discussion. When people do talk, they tend just to argue.  The forum is not getting anywhere it is only causing disagreements.  This nature of discussion has changed over the years as people become more stubborn or opinionated, or both.

Journalists are concerned with the way news is headed.  People are more concerned with delivering the news instead of gathering it first, so facts are not checked to be valid.  Polarization is another problem because the spectrum of opinion seems to be extremist.  For example, the Crossfire Syndrome–what once used to be debate now shut down because they were not addressing the middle ground people. Previous to this class, I did not realize there was such a problem with journalism, or even how difficult true journalists are to find.  Journalism is a hard job.  This world is corrupted with fake journalists and mistaken facts for truth.  The internet can be a tool for journalism or a hinderance.  Technology has spread news to parts of the world it could not reach previously, but  it also causes confusion by the false sources.  The internet is based off of opinions, which is why it realistically is making journalism more confusing and difficult.

So why do we care?

If we do not verify our subjects of check our facts, we will be left with cyberspace chatter–simply empty talk.  There will be nothing to talk about with meaning or value, and then what will society become?  Facts will be mistaken for lies and lies will be taken as truth.  There is nothing we can do about the internet problem, but we can make sure all we write and do is following the truth.  As future journalists, we must remember to compromise!  Use journalistic principles! Journalism must act as a public forum.

Matthew 5:16

Who let the Watchdogs Out?


“The watchdog is unlike any other role. For all that is similar to all other journalism, it requires special skills, a special temperament, a special hunger.  It also requires commitment of resources, a desire to cover serious concerns, and a press independent of any interest except that of the ultimate consumer of the news.” —Elements of Journalism

What exactly is watchdog journalism?  It is pretty self explanatory, making the affairs of powerful institutions more transparent to the public.  It is “watching over the powerful few in society on behalf of the many to guard against tyranny.”  Not only do watchdogs keep on eye on what is going on for warnings, but they must praise institutions for the good too, not only the bad.

Journalists are the watchdogs to the public.  Their purpose is to “monitor power and offer voice to the voiceless,” as the book Elements of Journalism statesJust as a watchdog guards their property for intruders or suspicions, as does a journalist protect the public from things they could not see.  Watchdog journalists, like the quote above states, must be dedicated to their job; they must be willing to go to any length to find the news the public needs to know.  It is believed by 9 out of 10 journalists, that the press keeps political leaders from doing things they should not do.  If watchdogs do their job right, the government cannot become corrupt.  This ties into how important journalism is–remember journalism as the fourth estate.

There are 3 types of investigative reporting (Watchdog reporting):

  1. Original Investigative Reporting–Which is the journalist alone, finding something out and letting the public know.  Any good journalism is truly investigative.
  2. Interpretative Investigative Journalism–The journalist put more careful thought into their work and piece the news together to put into context. An example is the Pentagon Papers.
  3. Reporting on Investigating–The news is already out, but then these reporters further report on what is already known. It could be scary because of so much skepticism of the reporter involved.

Looking at these ways to report the news, there is a question that rose from this group’s presentation which was, is it okay to be one-sided?  Is advocacy journalism tolerated?

In my last blog post, I stated how journalists cannot be tied down by restricted laws although they must be ethical.  So now I am going to further support that by saying that journalists can be one-sided. The reason is only because journalists can write about anything as long as the public knows why they are writing in a certain tone or it is made known their view is one-sided.  There must be no secrets in journalism.  After all, that is what communication is all about.

Like everything else that fades over time, the watchdog role is being weakened.  Since there is now a blur between the lines of entertainment and news, that obstructs the watchdog journalism duty.  This is a problem because watchdog journalism is what shaped journalism in the first place!  We must do all we can as future journalists to preserve their original role.  Why does it matter to other people who aren’t future journalists?  I will tell you why.  It is because this is what the people ask for.  Watchdog journalists give people the news they need and desire to know.  Without that role, there is no difference between entertainment and news.

Ethics in Journalism


“You cannot legislate a journalist” –Quote from Presentation

This statements required me some thought to understand.  The way I took it, is that the country cannot give laws to journalists restricting them from writing certain things because it is their ethical duty to expose the truth.  If journalists are required to possibly be unethical in order to get an important story, it could be worth it.  On the other hand, journalists must play with the circumstances.  For example, it was not extremely necessary for reporters to scope out when and where Whitney Houston’s body would be brought.  Many citizens became upset about this and for good reason.  It is an invasion of privacy and a personal time for her family and close friends.  Reporters must judge rightly when is appropriate to go undercover and when it is simply unethical.

The Society of Professional journalists have a code of ethics.  Is it unethical of journalists if they do not follow the code?  When journalists are working for a certain news company or SPJ for example, they must abide by the code of ethics given to them in order to stay on good terms with the company and keep their job.  The SPJ’s code of ethics is just vague enough and broad enough for journalists to completely obey.  This code is very well created because it gives the journalist freedom, while making sure they are maintaining their benevolence. I believe if journalists are given restrictions and an important story is found while a journalist breaks that restriction, the news company will always find a reason to let this case slide.  Truth for the public to know cannot be given restrictions.

Media is powerful.  We can see examples of this in every sort of media: television, radio, movies, etc.  Media can cause people to react or think in certain ways they normally would not.  There are six specific effects and theories describing how media can influence people, which are listed below.

Magic Bullet/hypodermic needle theory: which suggested that when the mass media send out a message and people react to it immediately.

Limited Effects Theory: Media has conditional effect on people

2-Step Flow Theory: Suggests that ideas flow from mass media to important opinion leaders, and from them it is spread to the wider population.

Spiral of Silence Theory: Claims people will not state their opinions if they feel they are in the minority.

Agenda Setting Theory: Media does not tell us what to think, but they tell us what to think about.

Third-person Effect Theory: The likelihood that people who view certain media, assume that the media has more of an effect on other people rather than themselves.

If media can cause people to do all the strange things these theories suggest, then it is a bigger deal than once thought.  Also, think of how long theses studies would have taken to conduct and conclude scientifically with these theories as their answer; nobody would waste their time on that if media was not such an influential factor.

Ethics in journalism are then important because media is so powerful.  Journalists must always be careful to not say something wrong or simply rude because they feel like it–that is unethical.  To a certain degree, journalists must have this code of ethics to go by even though journalists cannot be restricted from the truth by jurisdiction.  Journalists must always be ethical people, while (by some peoples’ views) going undercover or doing possible “unethical” things in order to expose the news.  In fact,

“News is what people want to keep hidden; the rest is publicity.” –Bill Moyers

Journalists must be journalists, but they must not step on everybody’s feet in order to do so.  Ethics. If the world were more concerned with themselves doing what is right in terms of morals or ethics, it would be a much better place.  Then again, if only everybody would first have the same view on what ethics are.