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Journalism: Profession or State of Mind

During a recent Journchat, Chris Anderson and I had a bit of a back and forth about the idea that journalism is a state of mind as much as it is a profession. “It is a profession. Sorry. 100%” he Tweeted. Yes, he agreed that everyone has the power to communicate, but, he believes, journalism shouldn’t be the goal. “Everyone is empowered now. Zero barrier. But you don't want to be a journalist -- it's an unholy priesthood,” he continued. “It is essential not to paint yourself into a corner. America has rejected your sort of "objective" journalism for dead.”

Fox news and MSNBC have proven that bias can attract an audience, but by the same token, the New York Times continues to act as a standard base. What’s more, Wikipedia keeps making adjustments and changes meant to eliminate the bias from it stories, focusing entirely on the facts and grows stronger because of it.

No, journalism isn’t dead.

But the original question Chris and I were debating centered on whether content creators (bloggers, tweeters, Facebookers, you name it) are journalists. I believe it really depends on the mindset of the person creating the content. Some will consider themselves journalists, and they and their readers will hold them to journalistic standards, while others will not care about those standards, wanting just to tell the story of their day. The trick for us, as readers, is to separate the two.

This is an issue Sree Sreenivasan and I touched on during our podcast conversation. He looks at it from another direction: turning people with other skills into journalists. Sree pointed to the trend of the “programmer journalist” someone who has skills as a coder as well as a journalist. “I would hire and consider somebody a journalist if they make iphone apps with a journalistic mindset,” he told me about 10 minutes into the podcast. That mindset includes finding the truth, maintaining ethics, getting the story right and being able to get it out on deadline.

As for whether journalism is a mindset or a career, that depends on the person. “It can be both. It can be one for some, the other for others and both for many,” Sree says.

Part of our job as PR people concerns understanding this landscape so we can better guide our clients. We need to understand what gives a individual influence so we can better keep them updated with information.

Back at my previous job a member of my PR team messed up big time. Long story short, she made an edit that she thought was innocuous, got a story placed and later found out that her edit changed the very nature of the story itself. After hearing from the client’s customer and the editor of the publication, we cleaned things up, but during the issue the team member tried to put things aside by saying “it’s not like someone died.”

No, no one died. But I told her in no uncertain terms that the error got in the way of the editor’s credibility, and that’s all he and his publication have to sell.

Our job is to understand and respect that, whether we’re creating content for our clients or pitching stories. We can’t feed them false information and expect to be taken seriously.

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