futurejournalism · online journalism · twitter

What is Journalism?

A wrap up of the Future of Journalism Conference, Cardiff.

This is being published a little later than I would have hoped, my excuse being a 24-hour flight and some internet issues.

As the title of this post suggests, the main theme of the Future of Journalism Conference was an existential one: What is Journalism? Yes that’s right there were  number of papers that focused on really rethinking our definition of exactly what journalism is.

Alfred Hermida, who  leads the integrated journalism programme at the graduate School of Journalism of the University of British Columbia, delivered a paper which argued that Twitter was in fact a system of journalism. How, I hear you ask? Well start by viewing Twitter as  an awareness system that offers a diverse means to collect, communicate, share and display news and information. The key here, however, is that it isn’t an editor that is filtering the information (i.e. links of articles) but a Twitter user’s network and ultimately the user themselves. Again another model where the top down version of journalism is eradicated.

My paper, which was written with my colleague Mandy Oakham, also focused on rethinking the tradtional ‘norms’ of journalism. Based on sampling of  four online news sites in Australia, we found a definite leaning towards tabloid news values in online copy. But rather than judge this as a ‘dumbing down’ of news content we see this as an example of journalists and content reconnecting with the audience. If you take the idea that a tabloid news story makes no attempt to wrap up a story, as does the so-called ‘quality’ media and the core of online media is its ability to offer readers an immediate forum for discussion –  online media therefore avails itself more to tabloid news values.  It could be looked at in terms of a development which is forcing journalists to focus on the wants and needs of those who consume their news selections. Ultimately, we argue, that news production may no longer be confined to an internal, newsroom, dialogue and further that journalistic or editorial judgement may no longer be the sole determinant of news values. This could be seen in one sense as a rebirth of an old news culture of the afternoon dailies which ceased production in Australia at the beginning of the 1980s.

Other papers presented also kept with this theme. Lisa Lynch’s paper Dangerous pranks or digital sunshine? Wikileaks and the future of investigative reporting found that the website Wikileaks provided a significant contribution to the public sphere by invigorating investigative reporting.

So what does all this mean for the future of journalism? In my mind it is that for us to find a solution to the woes plaguing our industry then we need to throw out all of our existing conceptions of journalism and start from scratch.

2 thoughts on “What is Journalism?

  1. I appreciate Wikileaks’ attempts to help the little guy. But I do believe that it needs to have some integrity and not just let anyone leak materials. What if that information could cause serious injury to someone? What is the motivation behind the leak? These are questions that investigative reporters are not asking — too many novices salivating at breaking news.

    Documents don’t lie – but they can be explained. Just a perspective from someone who traced back a Wikileaks document and found the leaker to have a business agenda.

    1. Kevin, as the author of the Wikileaks paper, I understand your concerns about the sourcing of documents from the site — others have voiced similar thoughts. My paper wasn’t claiming that Wikileaks was setting a model for investigative journalism. Indeed, I think the sites’ editors would agree that they are guided by a very different value system than the institutional media, one which privileges information freedom over claims of copyright, privacy and security. In other words, if integrity means being true to a value system, then integrity is precisely what Wikileaks has — but this does not mean that others won’t have ethical issues about what they are doing.

      I’m curious about the document you refer to. Could you possibly say which document it is?

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