Since journalism has never been defined, it is impossible to distinguish journalists from citizen journalists 6/7/07Posted by Steve Boriss in Journalism, The Elements of Journalism.
Dan Gillmour assures us that “Most blogging and other citizen media aren’t journalism.” Well, if they aren’t journalism, what exactly IS? To answer that question, let’s turn to the closest thing there is to modern journalism “scripture,” a book called The Elements of Journalism written in 2001 by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, and which is now widely assigned in j-schools. Their book was intended to, once and for all, define a journalism profession out of a vocation that had never developed any of the hallmarks of a true profession (e.g. agreed-to codes of ethics, licensing procedures, governing bodies, requirements for continuing education).
“The essence of journalism is a discipline of verification,” the authors tell us. “In the end, the discipline [of verification] is what separates journalism from other fields and creates an economic reason for it to continue.” Wow, sounds like we found it, right? Not so fast — because also in the book is, “The notion of an objective method of reporting exists in pieces, handed down by word of mouth from reporter to reporter…these informal strategies have not been pulled together into [a] widely understood discipline…There is nothing approaching standard rules of evidence, as in the law, or an agreed-upon method of observation, as in the conduct of scientific experiments.” And this: “[When journalists were asked where they learned concepts of verification], overwhelmingly the answer was: by trial and error and on my own or from a friend. Rarely did journalists report learning them in journalism school or from their editors.”
So the discipline of verification is what separates journalists from bloggers, but there actually is no defined discipline of verification — everyone simply does it in a way that feels comfortable to them. It is a mighty thin reed to which those who seek to set themselves apart as “journalists” now cling.