Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What Makes a Journalist?

Alexandria Keller

Photo provided by The Guardian. Reporters hold out different medium of recording for their different mediums of journalism

Time to generalize news gatherers all over the world. What makes a journalist?

Does it take schooling, training, or years of experience? Or simply a keyboard or camera? Does it takes worldly knowledge or just what is going on in your area? Does it take knowing about every issue or controversy revolving around the world? Or being extremely passionate and knowledgeable about one topic? Does it take writing for a big time news outlets or for an accurate blog? 

The University of Wisconsin’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication came up with their own guide to Digital Media Ethics in which they answered the question 'what makes a journalist' or how they'd like to phrase it 'is he or she doing journalism'?

However they choose to answer the question three approaches: skeptical, normative, and empirical.

1) Skeptical approach- finding it unnecessary and a waste of time to define who is a journalist or who is not

2) Normative approach- not believing a person is a journalist unless they have highly developed skills due to training, education, or experience. Also they person must follow most ethical norms.

3) Empirical approach- reviewing the work of the person whether articles, videos, photos, edits, interviewing, publishing, etc. and judge based off quality. Then use these qualities to determine whether storytelling, fiction, government database editing, etc.

Personally, I feel it would be easier if we just choose to use the skeptical approach, however that would continue to decrease the value of accuracy. Using the information or work of a person that you are willing to just assume/accept is a journalist is not focusing on the accuracy or credibility of the facts in a story. 

Then we come to normative approach. In my opinion this is definitely a step up from the skeptical. The normative approach begins to cover some skills needed to produce a good article, while it does not ask questions about accuracy or story choice/angle. Hopefully through education and/or one would understand how to set up a story, know the right questions to ask, check sources for credibility, publish article, etc. However, education and experience does not tell us whether the writer actually completed these actions well. Just having the knowledge to carry out acts, doesn't necessarily mean  writer will be a successful and accurate writer.

Finally, and my personal favorite, the empirical approach is one that covers what the writer has completed in the past. It is the dissection of their writing ability and quality that are then compared to non-journalistic forms of writing.

In this day and age, I believe it is more important readers ask whether their writer is a journalist through the empirical approach and partially the normative. The empirical approach opens the question up to a writers natural ability, whether they can truly convey what is going on, who is doing it, and why we should care. However, this can also include any information they have provided about them self that can add credibility of what they possible experienced. 

For example, over the summer I was a maintenance technician for a real estate company. During this job, I learned a lot about appliances, their basic functions and fixes. I also learned a lot about the real estate business from selling to buying.

This gives me some expertise if I were to ever write a story about real estate. However, on the other side it can also point if I have any biases or things that would not allow me to stay independent.

For partially normative, it can never hurt to simply have a strong understanding of the trade.

All in all though, I believe a journalist can vary. However, I would recommend the next time you read an article from an obscure or even big time news outlet that you ask yourself 'what makes this person a journalist'? 

1 comment:

  1. I like the four approaches and find myself pondering all! I also blogged about what to believe and what not. Social media is full of untruths so we have to pick and choose and research, through other means, to sort out the truth. I don't think that just because they are well known or have been in the "game" for decades gives journalist the sacred credit of truth. That has been proven wrong time and time again. I think it is up to us to do the research to find the truth and that is unfortunate. Let's face it though, starting out in journalism, we will make mistakes. We just have to correct them quickly to earn our credibility because we certainly can't be experts as beginners.

    Brenda Keck