A journalist tends to be an individual trained to gather, analyze, and report on news or current events. To do this, they may use various sources to investigate and report on stories, including interviews with sources, additional research into a topic, and observations. Journalists can work in a variety of media, with the oldest and most well-known form being print. Others include radio, television, and online platforms, which can be a mix of various forms of media. Journalists play an important role in societies, helping to keep citizens informed, serving as watchdogs of governments and powerful institutions, bringing light to any wrongdoing and corruption in halls of power, giving voice to those who may be otherwise unheard, and reporting on stories and perspectives that may be overlooked or marginalized. Their reporting can thereby shape public opinion and influence policy decisions.
Key duties and responsibilities of journalists include the following:
- Reporting the news accurately and fairly—this includes the duty journalists have to present all sides of a story to try to avoid bias or sensationalism. This involves fact-checking information to ensure it is as accurate as possible.
- Investigating stories—this relates to the responsibility of all journalists to investigate a story thoroughly, through as many fact-finding efforts as possible, and to ensure the facts are confirmed, presented objectively, and the journalist does not jump to conclusions or make assumptions.
- Protecting sources—depending on the type of story, journalists may need to use a variety of sources, including some that wish to remain anonymous for various reasons; in those cases, the journalist must keep the identity of a source and refrain from disclosing information that could lead to the identification of a source.
- Upholding ethical standards—journalists should always strive to adhere to ethical standards in their work, such as avoiding conflicts of interest, being transparent about sources and methods, and avoiding plagiarism.
- Serving the public interest—this relates to the responsibility journalists have to serve the public interest with accurate and reliable information and report on issues of public concern, investigate corruption and wrongdoing, and hold those in power accountable.
With the advent of the internet, and more specifically, social media platforms and free publishing platforms, the ability to disseminate information and perform "news" activities has increased. This has increased the amount of people who can engage in journalism. Traditionally, journalists worked with news agencies and could therefore be identified as journalists by their association with these agencies. Since the advent of the internet, defining who is a journalist has become more difficult, and the definition is more flexible because of that. A more flexible definition of journalism can include independently produced content, "citizen journalists" and "knowledge journalists"—such as those who work on Wikipedia or online encyclopedia pages—and bloggers (although these tend to be subject dependent, and in some cases, dependent on the regions local laws).
Before 1908, journalism was a trade learned in a newsroom or on the streets. It was considered a relatively blue-collar job, where new journalists learned through apprenticeships and on-the-job learning. However, in 1908, the University of Missouri opened the first college of journalism in the United States. Other universities across the United States would open their own departments or schools of journalism by 1920. Realistically, it would be a while before an education was required, as even as late as the 1970s, there were well-known journalists who learned on the job. But at the same time, journalism programs expanded globally, and it became an expectation for journalists to have such an education.
With the increasing educational infrastructure, the education expectations for new journalists have increased. Most institutions require some kind of formal education, with a preference for a journalism degree, so long as the individual has critical writing and interviewing skills. The journalism programs are generally a bachelor's level, although they can extend to a master's degree. These degrees can be in journalism, in a field concentration like broadcast or investigative reporting, or in a related field such as communications or English. However, journalism still requires a lot of on-the-job training, particularly in terms of finding sources and maintaining those relationships.
Regardless of the platform, journalism can be distinguished by certain identifiable characteristics and practices that separate it from other forms of communication. The responsibilities of a journalist cover a wide range of issues, from local news stories to global events, and part of the role of a journalist is to uncover the truth behind these stories and their effect on local news stories and global events. In addition to reporting breaking news, journalists write feature stories and investigative reports that dive deep into topics at greater length.
The practice of journalism is indispensable to democratic societies—the more news a society produces, the more information the society tends to have, and the more free the society might be. The practice of journalism in a democratic society should hold accountable those in power and engage in criticism of societal leaders (be they political leaders, business leaders, knowledge leaders, or others who can be considered a leader in modern democratic society). Whereas, if journalists do not criticize, assess, or hold those leaders to account, the more those leaders can lead a democratic society astray through information control.
The journalist's role in assessing stories, interviewing various sources, researching stories, and reporting through observations can be important for informing the public and combatting communication issues such as false reporting, misinformation, and foreign propaganda efforts. Journalism, for this role, is referred to as the "Fourth Estate" to indicate its power in importance. Generally, journalism plays the role of watchdog for the democratic society, and it is intended to be the voice of those people without a voice, holding those in power to account and providing accurate and fair information for those people. To do this job, journalists tend to need to be independent, and news agencies need to be equally independent; otherwise, the journalists' incentives can change and hamper their reporting. For example, a journalist more interested in getting close to a person of power may be more motivated to report favorably on those individuals in order to gain more access and may be disincentivized to report critically on that individual.
Depending on the market, the type of event, or the country in question, journalists may require credentials. These credentials identify the individual as a journalist, and in a country where journalists are required to be certified, it offers their certification and can identify the outlet or news media agency the individual works for. Credentialization in journalism is often sought to restrict access to events to ensure the events are able to proceed without concern for interruptions, whether they are peaceful or violent. Some further argue that the credentialization of journalists can be used to counter allegations of misinformation or fake news and to create a professional designation for journalists. This can ensure that journalists given the proper training and education are allowed to access the spaces and information sought. Credentialization can also help increase trust in news agencies and journalism, offer important internal structures and professional hierarchies in news agencies, and signify the boundaries of the field of journalism.
However, the act of credentialization has raised questions and concerns. One of which is who or which institution offers credentialization. For example, if credentialization comes from an institution, this can restrict independent journalists from practicing journalism effectively. Whereas if the credentials are offered by government agencies, this can undercut the role of journalists to hold those agencies and officials accountable, as any official would theoretically be able to remove the journalist's credentials. The increasing expectation of credentialization for journalists to access government or private spaces or to be considered a journalist at all has raised concerns for those that wish to see journalists act independently and hold power to account.
Journalism is an old, broad part of the media and communication landscape, in some cases traced back to Rome circa 59 BCE. As the profession has aged and as technology has expanded the avenues in which journalists operate, the types of journalists have increased. This can include delivery through different mediums or types of journalists focused on specific topics for increased topic specialization. In some cases, journalism can be divided between "hard" news, which includes mostly serious and factual stories such as politics, government, or crime, and "soft" news, which includes less serious issues like celebrities, sports, or culture.
Types of journalists
Broadcast journalists tend to work for radio or television stations and report news on air, often live as it is happening. These types of journalists may also conduct interviews, write scripts, and edit video footage. Often broadcast journalists are the face and voice of a media organization and can be supported by an entire production and news-gathering crew.
A business journalist is intended to be a subject matter expert, covering stories related to the economy, finance, and business across mediums. Business journalists may report on corporate earnings, stock market trends, or government policies that may impact businesses and wider economies.
Correspondents work for particular media organizations and can be assigned to cover a specific beat, topic, or geographical area. They are often based in foreign countries and are expected to report on the local events, politics, and other news of interest from that country for a home audience.
As the name suggests, a crime journalist covers criminal events for various mediums, such as newspapers, television, magazines, or online platforms. The journalist can cover murder, corruption, money embezzlement, or stock manipulation. Essentially, the journalist can be expected to cover anything that goes against the code of law and can be expected to conduct interviews, attend court hearings, and conduct other forms of research.
An education journalist reports across mediums on events related to and happening in the field of education. This can include reports to help policymakers to implement new education policies, to increase awareness about the education system, and to promote higher education for students. Usually, this journalism is focused on an audience of students, researchers, and teachers.
Several types of journalistic forms and styles utilize various techniques to engage different audiences. There are five principal types of journalism: investigative, news, reviews, columns, and feature writing.
Investigative journalism works to uncover the truth about a subject, person, event, or news story. The principles underlying all journalism are based on investigative journalism, in that it works toward the verification and accurate presentation of facts. Investigative journalists have to work, at times, with uncooperative or recalcitrant sources who do not wish to divulge information. This is typically the most celebrated type of journalism, with movies based on their events, such as the investigative reporting of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's uncovering of the Watergate scandal. This type of journalism can upend major institutions and influence public life.
News journalism is intended to be a straightforward presentation of the facts of an event. These facts are to be relayed without flourishes or interpretation, and the typical news story contains a headline with enough explanation to orient the reader or watcher. This type of story lacks depth and does not question facts and individuals. Instead, a news story relays facts, events, and information in a straightforward, accurate, and unbiased manner. This is the most common type of journalism. However, some have criticized news journalism because its intended straightforward approach can slant a story through the omission of facts at the time of publishing.
Reviews take place in "soft" news and are a mixture of facts and the opinion of the journalist, or reviewer. Reviews attempt to accomplish two things: one is to accurately describe or identify what is being reviewed; the second is to provide an intelligent and informative opinion of the subject. The ability of the journalist to provide an intelligent and informative review requires them to have expertise in a given subject based on research and experience.
Columns tend to be based on the personality of the journalist, allowing them to write about subjects in a personal style. This can be a humorous approach, follow a specific interest or topic, or focus on a specialization in a particular subject. Columnists can have a particular, cultivated "voice" their readers can recognize. These columns can be used to interpret events or issues or contain their own personal experiences or thoughts. Most columns are published weekly.
When writing a feature, journalists are expected to provide scope, depth, and an interpretation of trends, events, topics, or people. The feature aims to thoroughly explore a topic through interviews with numerous key people or experts but also offers multiple, even unseen, perspectives on an event, issue, or person. Feature writing, much like investigative reporting, often wins prestigious awards when it achieves the goal and tends to have the highest word count of all journalism types.
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