Journalism’s obligation to citizens is what helps us define what it is.
Journalists help define what the agenda is and identify the needs the community faces, whether good or bad based on the values of the community and society at large. News media serves as the fourth arm of Government by watching out for the community.
James Carey (was a communications theorist, media critic and a journalism instructor at the University of Illinois and later Columbia University) once said “perhaps journalism simply means carrying and amplifying the conversations of the people themselves”.
The rise of new media methods have made the purpose seem even more important. Core journalism is changing in so many ways; not that it is under Government through suppression, but due to the fact that the 21st century methods of news distribution like websites and videos subsidise willing media to promote policies.
Another form of threat taking the community away from traditional journalism and into the new commercial communication is journalism for profit. Some say defining journalism is dangerous and if it is done, it would limit it. Thus, journalists have avoided licensing as in other professions such as medicine, law and they fear that defining journalism would only make it resistant to changing times and maybe lead it to extinction.
Lawyers have looked at the historical aspect of the role of editors, publishers, newsrooms and journalistic values and rivals before the corporate takeover of rooms started and warned news companies not to define its principles in writing, for fear of limiting themselves about what they can say or do, as this can lead to them being sued for what they produce.
As such, avoiding a definition was a commercial strategy to allow newsrooms to exist and stay relevant.
Journalists disagree on defining what they do but they fundamentally agree on the purpose. The central purpose of journalism is to tell the truth so that people will have information they need to be sovereign. Whatever kind of journalism there is, journalists agree they aim to express and link the public to public information and that’s their mission.
In the end, it’s important to note journalism is about one core value; to serve the general welfare by keeping the public aware. The late John Paul II noted journalism must be guided by public information and it should not be directed only by economic gain, profit and special interests.
Newspapers must also advance self-governance as the primary goal of their organisations. Meaning, they must regulate themselves for the goodness of society through the information they provide. Journalism must thus exercise social and moral obligation to society, driven by public opinion and public interest. It must be for the good of all the people, not just a few, if it is to stay relevant for always.
But let’s agree to disagree, the 21st century has changed the way information relevance has come about. There is no longer an issue of gate-keeping; deciding what information the public should know and what it should not. It’s no longer strictly defined by journalism.
There has been so many examples of events in, say, the United States, when one news broadcaster refuses to broadcast or delays release of certain news, then another broadcaster or newsroom will go ahead with it. The best example is the breaking of Lewinsky’s scandal.
Internet, blogosphere, concepts of “citizen journalism” and democratisation of the broadband has further changed the way information is acquired - no one can decide what people need and want to know anymore. Technological transformation has made citizens more involved and active participants who can assemble their own content.
People are finding new ways to get information. They’re becoming their on editors and thus the role of traditional journalism is weakening. This is mainly because technology has changed how journalists fulfill their roles. New culture of communication is arising. Technology has made it possible for journalists to have the ability to look at news items from multiple points of view and get to the core of the issue without meeting their subjects face to face. This new journalism is not about what public should know but about helping audiences make order out of it. The first task of new journalists is not to be a ‘sense-maker’, rather, to verify what information is reliable and then order it, so people can grasp it efficiently.
In this era where anyone can become a journalist or a reporter, the actual journalists have become mediators and consumers have become pro-consumers - they’re both a hybrid of consumers and producers.
There are so many ways of sharing information today. The possessive consumer has died and people now have the ability to interact with the news itself, as well as with the professionals delivering them. Some use the web to present their case while others still prefer the conventional way of doing things.
No one can really control information today, as citizens can communicate more easily with each other but there is the danger of whether the information being shared is truthful or not.
High technology journalism is not really different; it’s all about informing people because the mission hasn’t been fundamentally changed by the digital age. The techniques maybe different, yes, but the underlying principles are the same. The only difference is, the journalist is first engaged with verification.