The first real colonial newspaper was the New England Courant, published as a sideline by printer James Franklin.
Journalism is the reporting, writing, editing, photographing, or broadcasting of news. While under pressure to be first with their stories, news media organizations usually edit and proofread their reports prior to publication, adhering to each organization’s standards of accuracy, quality, and style.
Many news organizations claim proud traditions of holding government officials and institutions accountable to the public, while media critics have raised questions about holding the press itself accountable. As powerful influences of public opinion, news organizations and journalists have a responsibility to act in the interest of the betterment of human society.
Journalism has as its main activity the reporting of events—stating who, what, when, where, why and how—and explaining the significance and effect of events or trends. Since newspapers began as journals or records of current events, the profession involved in writing the content of newspapers came to be called “journalism.”
News-oriented journalism has been described as the “first rough draft of history” (often attributed to Philip Graham), because journalists often record important events, producing news articles on short deadlines. Journalism exists in a number of mass media: newspapers, television, radio, magazines and, most recently, the World Wide Web through the Internet.
The subject matter of journalism can be anything and everything, and journalists report and write on a wide variety of subjects: politics on the international, national, state/provincial and local levels; economics and business on the same four levels; health and medicine; education; sports; entertainment and recreation; lifestyles; clothing; food; and relationships. Journalists can report for general interest news outlets like newspapers, news magazines, and broadcast sources; general circulation specialty publications like trade and hobby magazines, or for news publications and outlets with a select group of subscribers.
Journalists are usually expected and required to go out to the scene of a story to gather information for their reports, and often may compose their reports in the field. They also use the telephone, the computer, and the internet to gather information. However, more often those reports are written and almost always edited in the newsroom, where journalists and editors work together to prepare news content.
Journalists, especially if they cover a specific subject or area (a “beat”) are expected to cultivate sources—people in the subject or area that they can communicate with—either to explain the details of a story, or to provide leads to other stories yet to be reported. They are also expected to develop their investigative skills to better research and report stories.
The earliest methods of transmitting news began with word of mouth, which limited its content to what people saw and relayed to others; accuracy in news depended on the scope of the event being described and its relevance to the listener. The time it took for news to be disseminated by this method involved days, weeks, months or more. Ancient monarchial governments developed ways of relaying written reports. The Roman Empire from Julius Caesar onward recorded and distributed a daily record of political news and acts to Roman colonies. After the empire collapsed, news dissemination depended on travelers’ tales, songs, ballads, letters, and governmental dispatches.
The Printing Press and Print Journalism
The invention of the movable type printing press, attributed to Johannes Gutenberg in 1456, led to the wide dissemination of the Bible and other printed books. The first printed periodical was Mercurius Gallobelgicus, first appearing in Cologne, Germany, in 1594 and written in Latin. Nevertheless, it was distributed widely and found its way to readers in England.
The first newspapers appeared in Europe in the seventeenth century. The first regularly published newspaper in English (as opposed to the earlier “news books,” published in eight- to 24-page quarto formats) was the Oxford Gazette (later the London Gazette, and published continuously ever since), which first appeared in 1665. It began publication while the British royal court was in Oxford to avoid the plague in London, and was published twice a week. When the court moved back to London, the publication moved with it.
The first daily newspaper, the Daily Courant, appeared in 1702 and continued publication for more than 30 years. Its first editor was also the first woman in journalism, although she was replaced after only a couple of weeks. By this time, the British had adopted the Press Restriction Act, which required that the printer’s name and place of publication be included on each printed document.
The first printer in Britain’s American colonies was Stephen Day in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who began in 1638. The British regulation of printing extended to the Colonies. The first newspaper in the colonies in 1690, Benjamin Harris’s Publick Occurrences both Foreighn and Domestick, was suppressed after only one issue under a 1662 Massachusetts law that forbade printing without a license. The publication of a story suggesting that the king of France shared a bed with his son’s wife may also have contributed to the suppression.
The first real colonial newspaper was the New England Courant, published as a sideline by printer James Franklin, brother of Benjamin Franklin. Like many other colonial newspapers, it was aligned with party interests and did not publish balanced content. Ben Franklin was first published in his brother’s newspaper, under the pseudonym Silence Dogood, in 1722. Franklin’s pseudonymous publishing represented a common practice of newspapers of that time of protecting writers from retribution from those they criticized, often to the point of what would be considered libel today.
As the nineteenth century progressed in America, newspapers began functioning more as private businesses with real editors rather than as partisan organs, though standards for truth and responsibility were still low. Other than local news, much of the reporting was simply copied from other newspapers. In addition to news stories, there might be poetry, or fiction, or humor. As American cities like New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington, D.C. grew with the Industrial Revolution, so did newspapers. Larger printing presses, the telegraph and other technological innovations allowed newspapers to print thousands of copies cheaply, boost circulation, and increase revenue.
The first newspaper to fit the modern definition as a newspaper was the New York Herald, founded in 1835 and published by James Gordon Bennett. It was the first newspaper to have city staff covering regular beats and spot news, along with regular business and Wall Street coverage. In 1838 Bennett also organized the first foreign correspondent staff of six men in Europe and assigned domestic correspondents to key cities, including the first reporter to regularly cover Congress.
The New York Times was founded in 1851 by George Jones and Henry Raymond. It established the principle of balanced reporting with high-quality writing. At the time, however, it did not achieve the circulation and success it came to enjoy.
The Civil War had a profound effect on American journalism. Large newspapers hired war correspondents to cover the battlefields, with more freedom than correspondents today enjoy. These reporters used the new telegraph and expanding railways to move news reports faster to their newspapers. The cost of sending telegraph messages helped create a new concise or “tight” style of writing which became a standard for journalism through the next century.
The ever-growing demand for urban newspapers to provide more news led to the organization of the first of the wire services, a cooperative between six large New York City-based newspapers led by David Hale, the publisher of the Journal of Commerce, and James Gordon Bennett, to provide coverage of Europe for all of the papers together. What became the Associated Press received the first cable transmission ever of European news through the trans-Atlantic cable in 1858.
New Forms of Journalism
The New York dailies continued to redefine journalism. James Bennett’s Herald, for example, did not just write about the disappearance of David Livingstone in Africa; they sent Henry Stanley to find him, which he did, in Uganda. The success of Stanley’s stories prompted Bennett to hire more of what would turn out to be investigative journalists. He was also the first American publisher to bring an American newspaper to Europe by founding the Paris Herald, the precursor of today’s International Herald Tribune.
Charles Anderson Dana of the New York Sun developed the idea of the human interest story and a better definition of news value, including uniqueness of a story.
Birth of Broadcasting in the Twentieth Century
Guglielmo Marconi and colleagues in 1901 used a wireless radio transmitter to send a signal from the United States to Europe. By 1907, his invention was in wide use for transatlantic communication. The first commercial radio broadcast was made in November 1920 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Marconi’s invention was quickly adopted by news businesses for dissemination of current events to the public in numbers previously unthinkable.
The technology behind television emerged in the 1920s, and the first commercial TV broadcast made in July 1941 in New York. Like radio, television was quickly adopted as a medium for journalism, with today many networks around the world devoted entirely to television journalism including CNN, BBC, and al Jazeera.
Print journalism can be split into several categories: newspapers, news magazines, general interest magazines, trade magazines, hobby magazines, newsletters, private publications, online news pages, and others. Each genre can have its own requirements for researching and writing reports.
Newspaper journalists in the United States have traditionally written reports using the “inverted pyramid” style, although this style is used more for straight or hard news reports rather than features. Written hard news reports are expected to be sparing in their use of words, and to list the most important information first. This ensures that, if the story must be cut because there is not enough space for the complete text, the least important facts can be cut automatically from the bottom. Editors usually ensure that reports are written with as few words as possible. Feature stories are usually written in a looser style that usually depends on the subject matter of the report, and in general are granted more space.
News magazine and general interest magazine articles are usually written in a different style, with less emphasis on the inverted pyramid. Trade publications tend to be more news-oriented, while hobby publications are more feature-oriented.
Radio journalists must gather facts and present them fairly and accurately, but also must find and record relevant and interesting audio to add to their reports, both interviews with people involved in the story and background sounds that help characterize the story. Radio reporters may write an introduction to the story which is read by a radio news anchor, and then answer questions live from the anchor.
Television journalists rely on visual information to illustrate and characterize their reporting, including on-camera interviews with people involved in the story, shots of the scene where the story took place, and graphics usually produced at the station to help frame the story. Like radio reporters, television reporters also may write the introductory script that a television news anchor reads to set up their story. Both radio and television journalists usually do not have as much “space, ” i.e., time, to present information in their reports as print journalists.
The fast and vast growth of the Internet and World Wide Web has spawned the newest medium for journalism, online journalism. The speed at which news can be disseminated on the Web and the profound penetration to anyone with a computer and Internet connection have greatly increased the quantity and variety of news reports available to the public.
The bulk of online journalism has been the extension of existing print and broadcast media into the Web via online versions of their primary products. New reports that were set to be released at expected times now can be published as soon as they are written and edited, increasing the deadline pressure and fear of being “scooped”—beaten in the race to be first to bring news to the public.
Most news websites are free to their users—the notable exception being The Wall Street Journal site, for which, at least under present ownership, a subscription is required to view its contents. Some outlets, as did The New York Times site until October 2007, offer current news for free but archived reports and access to opinion columnists and other non-news sections for a fee. Attempts to start unique web publications, such as Slate and Salon, have met with limited success, in part because they do or did charge subscription fees.
The growth of “blogs” (shortened from “web-logs”) or online journals as a source of news—and especially opinion on the news has forever changed journalism. Blogs now can create news as well as report it, and blur the dividing line between news and opinion. Other sites contain user-generated content, like NowPublic.com and OhMyNews.com. All, or the bulk, of the content comes from citizens rather than professional reporters—on some sites even passing through no editorial process; the citizen posts news directly. This technological capability radically undermines the traditional gatekeeper role of news organizations.
Varieties of Journalism
Newspapers and periodicals often contain “features” written by journalists, many of whom specialize in this form of in-depth journalism. Feature articles typically are longer than straight news articles, and are combined with photographs, drawings, or other graphics. They may also be highlighted by typographic effects or colors.
Writing features can be more demanding than writing straight news stories. While a journalist must apply the same amount of effort to accurately gather and report the facts of the story, the reporter must also find a creative and interesting way to write the article, especially the lead, or the first one or two paragraphs of the story. The lead must capture the reader’s attention yet accurately embody the ideas of the article.
In the latter half of the twentieth century, the line between straight news reporting and feature writing blurred as more and more journalists and publications experimented with different approaches to writing an article. Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson, among others, used many different approaches to writing news articles. Urban and alternative weekly newspapers went even further blurring the distinction, and many magazines include more features than straight news.
Some television news shows experimented with alternative formats. Many that claimed to be news shows were not considered as such by many critics, because their content and methods did not adhere to accepted journalistic standards. National Public Radio, on the other hand, is considered a good example of a balanced mixture of straight news reporting, features, and combinations of the two, usually meeting standards of high quality.
Business journalism tracks, records, analyzes and interprets the economic changes taking place in a society, from personal finance, to business at the local market, to performance of well-known and lesser-known companies. This form of journalism covers news and feature articles about people, places and issues related to the field of business. Almost all general newspapers and magazines, radio and television news channels carry a business segment. Detailed and in-depth business journalism is found in dedicated business or financial publications, radio and television channels.
Business coverage gained prominence in the 1990s, with wider investment in the stock market. The Wall Street Journal published in New York and the Financial Times published in London are two global business newspapers that appear six days a week. Today, business reporting is a burgeoning field within journalism, and one of the most profitable.
Sports journalism covers many aspects of athletic competition, and is an integral part of most journalism products, including newspapers, magazines, and radio and television news broadcasts. While some critics do not consider sports journalism to be true journalism, the prominence of sports in Western culture has justified the attention of journalists to not just the competitive events of sports, but also to athletes and the business of sports.
Sports journalism in the United States has traditionally been written in a looser, more creative, and more opinionated tone than traditional journalistic writing; however, the emphases on accuracy and underlying fairness is still a part of sports journalism. An emphasis on the accurate description of statistical performances of athletes is also an important part of sports journalism.
Science journalism is a relatively new branch of journalism, in which journalists’ reporting conveys information on science topics to the public. Science journalists must understand and interpret very detailed, technical, and oftentimes jargon-laden information and render it into interesting reports that are comprehensible to consumers of news media.
Scientific journalists also must choose which developments in science merit news coverage, as well as cover disputes within the scientific community with a balance of fairness to both sides but also with a devotion to the facts.
Investigative journalism involves journalists investigating and exposing unethical, immoral and illegal behavior by individuals, businesses and government agencies. It can be complicated, time-consuming, and expensive—requiring teams of journalists, months of research, interviews (sometimes repeated interviews) with numerous people, long-distance travel, computers to analyze public-record databases, or use of the company’s legal staff to secure documents under freedom of information laws.
Because of its inherently confrontational nature, this kind of reporting is often the first to suffer from budget cutbacks or interference from outside the news department. Investigative reporting done poorly can also expose journalists and media organizations to negative reaction from subjects of investigations and the public. However, done well, it can bring the attention of the public and government problems and conditions that need to be addressed.
The power of investigative journalism to affect events was seen in the reporting on the Watergate break-in and White House cover-up by The Washington Post and other newspapers that led to the eventual resignation of President Richard M. Nixon in August 1974.
“Celebrity” or “People” Journalism
A less reputable area of journalism that grew in stature in the twentieth century is “celebrity” or “people” journalism. This area focuses on the personal lives of people, primarily celebrities, including movie and stage actors, musical artists, models, and photographers, other notable people in the entertainment industry, as well as people who seek attention, such as politicians, and people thrust into the attention of the public due to their involvement in newsworthy events.
Once the province of newspaper gossip columnists and gossip magazines, celebrity journalism has become the focus of national tabloid newspapers like the National Enquirer, magazines like People, syndicated television shows like Entertainment Tonight and Inside Edition, cable networks likeA&E Network and The Biography Channel, and numerous other television productions and thousands of websites. Most other news media provide some coverage of celebrities and people.
Celebrity journalism differs from feature writing in that it focuses on people who are either already famous or are especially attractive, and in that it often covers celebrities obsessively, to the point of these journalists behaving unethically in order to provide coverage. Paparazzi, photographers who follow celebrities incessantly to obtain potentially embarrassing photographs, have come to characterize celebrity journalism.
Reporting versus Editorializing
Generally, publishers and consumers of journalism draw a distinction between reporting—”just the facts”—and opinion writing, often by restricting opinion columns to the editorial page and its facing or “op-ed” (opposite the editorials) page(s). Unsigned editorials are traditionally the official opinions of the paper’s editorial board, while op-ed pages may be a mixture of syndicated columns and other contributions, frequently with some attempt to balance the voices across some political or social spectrum.
However, the distinction between reporting and opinion can break down. Complex stories often require summarizing and interpretation of facts, especially if there is limited time or space for a story. Stories involving great amounts of interpretation are often labeled “news analysis,” but still run in a paper’s news columns. The limited time for each story in a broadcast report rarely allows for such distinctions.
The very act of selecting what counts as news and deciding how and where to present it itself can express strong views and opinions. Newspaper news pages oftentimes carry news stories presented in a way that support a particular view or perspective that is not supported within the paper’s editorial and opinion pages. Some editors believe it is more important to control the news that goes into a paper than to control the opinion pages because it is the news pages that really shape public opinion.
24-Hour News Cycle and “Gonzo” Journalism
With the advent of cable television and dedicated news channels like CNN, Fox News, CNBC, and MSNBC in the U.S., as well as news and blog Web sites, has come the creation of the 24-hour news cycle. For those outlets, news has to keep flowing around the clock and not just appear once a day at deadline. This in turn has created pressure on the traditional standards of sourcing and checking. The standard used to be two named sources for a story. Now, more and more, news organizations use single sources and anonymous sources to get stories out quickly and not be beaten by a blogger. Thus, traditional ethical standards are under pressure as a result of the new commercial environment created by new technology.
“Gonzo journalism,” a style of reporting that mixes fiction and factual journalism, further obfuscates for readers and audiences the facts that surround a story. It favors style over accuracy and often uses personal experiences and emotions to provide context for the topic or event being covered. It disregards the “polished” edited product favored by newspaper media. Use of quotes, sarcasm, humor, exaggeration, and even profanity is common. Its highly subjective style often includes the reporter as part of the story, via a first person narrative, and events may be exaggerated in order to emphasize the underlying message. 
Professional and Ethical Standards
Journalists are expected to follow a stringent code of journalistic conduct that requires them to, among other things:
- Use original sources of information, including interviews with people directly involved in a story, original documents and other direct sources of information, whenever possible, and cite the sources of this information in reports;
- Fully attribute information gathered from other published sources, should original sources not be available (to not do so is considered plagiarism; some newspapers also note when an article uses information from previous reports);
- Use multiple original sources of information, especially if the subject of the report is controversial;
- Check every fact reported;
- Find and report every side of a story possible;
- Report without bias, illustrating many aspects of a conflict rather than siding with one;
- Approach researching and reporting a story with a balance between objectivity and skepticism.
- Use careful judgment when organizing and reporting information.
- Be careful about granting confidentiality to sources (news organizations usually have specific rules that journalists must follow concerning grants of confidentiality);
- Decline gifts or favors from any subject of a report, and avoid even the appearance of being influenced;
- Abstain from reporting or otherwise participating in the research and writing about a subject in which the journalist has a personal stake or bias that cannot be set aside.
Such a code of conduct is difficult to uphold consistently. Journalists who believe they are being fair or objective may give biased accounts—by reporting selectively, trusting too much to anecdote, or giving a partial explanation of actions. Even in routine reporting, bias can creep into a story through a reporter’s choice of facts to summarize, or through failure to check enough sources, hear and report dissenting voices, or seek fresh perspectives.
As much as reporters try to set aside their prejudices, they may simply be unaware of them. Young reporters may be blind to issues affecting the elderly. A 20-year veteran of the “police beat” may be deaf to rumors of departmental corruption. Publications marketed to affluent suburbanites may ignore urban problems. Naive or unwary reporters and editors alike may fall prey to public relations, propaganda, or disinformation.
News organizations provide editors, producers, and news directors whose job is to check reporters’ work at various stages to check compliance with the standards.
Recognition of Excellence in Journalism
There are several professional organizations, universities and foundations that recognize excellence in journalism. The Pulitzer Prize, administered by Columbia University in New York City, is awarded to newspapers, magazines, and broadcast media for excellence in various kinds of journalism. The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism gives the Alfred I. DuPont-Columbia University Awards for excellence in radio and television journalism, and the Scripps Howard Foundation gives the National Journalism Awards in 17 categories. The Society of Professional Journalists gives the Sigma Delta Chi Award for journalism excellence. In the television industry, the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences gives awards for excellence in television journalism. In the U.S., there are regional versions of some of these awards as well.
Aggressive journalism is a pejorative term. There are two main types: “ambush” and “gotcha” journalism.
“Ambush” journalism refers to aggressive tactics practiced by journalists to suddenly confront with questions people who otherwise do not wish to speak to a journalist. The practice has particularly been applied by television journalists on news and interview shows, and by American local television reporters conducting investigations.
The practice has been sharply criticized by journalists and others as being highly unethical and sensational, while others defend it as the only way to attempt to provide those subject to it an opportunity to comment for a report. Ambush journalism has not been ruled illegal in the United States, although doing it on private property could open a journalist to being charged with trespassing.
“Gotcha” journalism refers to the deliberate manipulation of facts in a report in order to portray a person or organization in a particular light. In broadcast journalism the story, images, and interviews are tailored to create an unbalanced impression of the subject matter. It is considered highly unethical to engage in this type of journalism.
Aggressive journalism is most often practiced by paparazzi or journalists following celebrities, but also has been employed by investigative journalists. For some, the boundary between investigative and aggressive journalism has increasingly become blurred.
Fake news is a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate disinformation or hoaxes. This type of news, found in traditional news, social media, or fake news websites, has no basis in fact, but is presented as being factually accurate. Written and published usually with the intent to mislead in order to damage an agency, entity, or person, and/or gain financially or politically, fake news is a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate disinformation or hoaxes. Fake news often uses sensationalist, dishonest, or outright fabricated headlines to increase readership, violating journalism’s ethical and professional standards. The proliferation of fake news in the twenty-first century threatens the integrity of journalism and changes its role in society.
Journalists around the world often write about the governments in their nations, and those governments have widely varying policies and practices, which control what journalists can research and write, and what press organizations can publish. Many Western governments guarantee freedom of the press, and do relatively little to restrict press rights and freedoms, while other nations severely restrict what journalists can research and/or publish.
Journalists in many nations have enjoyed some privileges not enjoyed by members of the general public, including better access to public events, crime scenes, and press conferences, and to extended interviews with public officials, celebrities, and others in the public eye. These privileges are available because of the perceived power of the press to turn public opinion for or against governments, their officials and policies, as well as the perception that the press often represents their consumers.
Nations or jurisdictions that formally license journalists may confer special privileges and responsibilities along with those licenses, but in the U.S., the tradition of an independent press has avoided any imposition of government-controlled examinations or licensing. Some of the states have explicit “shield laws” that protect journalists from some forms of government inquiry, but those statutes’ definitions of “journalist” were often based on access to printing presses and broadcast towers. A national shield law has been proposed.
In some nations, journalists are directly employed, controlled, or censored by their governments. In other nations, governments who may claim to guarantee press rights actually intimidate journalists with threats of arrest, destruction or seizure of property (especially the means of production and dissemination of news content), torture, or murder.
Journalists who elect to cover conflicts, whether wars between nations or insurgencies within nations, often give up their expectation of protection by government. Journalists who are captured or detained during a conflict are expected to be treated as civilians and to be released to their national government.
Rights of Journalists versus Private Citizens and Organizations
The power of journalists over private citizens is limited by the citizen’s rights to privacy. However, many who seek favorable representation in the press (for example, celebrities) grant journalists greater access than others enjoy. The right to privacy of a private citizen may be reduced or lost if the citizen is thrust into the public eye, either by their own actions or because they are involved in a public event or incident. Citizens and private organizations can refuse to deal with some or all journalists; however, the powers the press enjoys in many nations often make this tactic ineffective or counter-productive.
Citizens in most nations also enjoy the right against being libeled or defamed by journalists, and citizens can bring suit against journalists who they claim have published damaging untruths about them with malicious disregard for the truth. Libel or defamation lawsuits can also become conflicts between the journalist’s right to publish versus the private citizen’s right to privacy.
Libel laws differ markedly even among democracies. American libel law favors media organizations since it requires proof that not only damaging falsehoods were published but that this was done recklessly and maliciously. In Great Britain and other European countries, libel laws tend to favor plaintiffs and news organizations are held responsible for publishing damaging truths even if they did so in good faith.
Right to Protect Confidentiality of Sources
Journalists’ interaction with sources sometimes involves confidentiality, an extension of freedom of the press giving journalists legal protection to keep the identity of a source private even when demanded by police or prosecutors.
The scope of rights granted journalists varies from nation to nation; in the United Kingdom, for example, the government has had more legal rights to protect what it considers sensitive information—and to force journalists to reveal the sources of leaked information—than the United States. Other nations, particularly Zimbabwe and the People’s Republic of China, have a reputation of persecuting journalists, both domestic and foreign.
Right of Access to Government Information
Journalists depend on the rights granted by government to the public and, by extension, to the press, for access to information held by the government. These rights also vary from nation to nation, and, in the United States, from state to state.
In the United States, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) guarantees journalists the right to obtain copies of government documents, although the government has the right to “redact,” or black out, information from documents in those copies that FOIA allows them to withhold. Other federal legislation also controls access to information.
Role of Journalism in Society
In the 1920s, as modern journalism was just taking form, writer Walter Lippmann and American philosopher John Dewey debated over the role of journalism in a democracy. Their differing philosophies still characterize the debate about the role of journalism in society.
Lippmann understood the role of journalism to be a mediator or translator between the public and policymaking elites. The journalist became the middleman. When elites spoke, journalists listened and recorded the information, distilled it, and passed it on to the public for their consumption. His reasoning was that the public was not in a position to deconstruct a growing and complex flurry of information present in modern society, and so an intermediary was needed to filter news for the masses. Lippman put it this way: The public is not smart enough to understand complicated, political issues. Furthermore, the public was too consumed with their daily lives to care about complex public policy. Therefore the public needed someone to interpret the decisions or concerns of the elite to make the information plain and simple. That was the role of journalists. Lippmann believed that the public would affect the decision-making of the elite through the power of their vote. In the meantime, the elite (politicians, policymakers, bureaucrats, scientists, etc.) would keep the business of power running. In Lippman’s world, the journalist’s role was to inform the public of what the elite were doing. It was also to act as a watchdog over the elites through informing the public who would then judge the actions of the elite.
Dewey, on the other hand, believed the public was not only capable of understanding the issues created or responded to by the elite, it was in the public forum that decisions should be made after discussion and debate. When issues were thoroughly vetted, then the best ideas would bubble to the surface. Dewey believed journalists not only had to inform the public, but should report on issues after considering possible impacts, rather than simply passing on information. Dewey believed that journalists should take in the information, and then weigh the consequences of the policies being enacted by the elites. Over time, his idea has been implemented in various degrees, and is more commonly known as “community journalism.”
This concept of community journalism is at the center of new developments in journalism. In this new paradigm, journalists are able to engage citizens and the experts/elites in the proposition and generation of content. It is important to note that while there is an assumption of equality, Dewey still celebrated expertise. Dewey believed that the shared knowledge of many is far superior to a single individual’s knowledge. Experts and scholars are welcome in Dewey’s framework, but there is not the hierarchical structure present in Lippman’s understanding of journalism and society. According to Dewey, conversation, debate, and dialogue lie at the heart of a democracy.
While Lippman’s journalistic philosophy might be more acceptable to government leaders, Dewey’s approach is a better descriptor of how many journalists see their role in society, and, in turn, how much of society expects journalists to function. Americans, for example, may criticize some of the excesses committed by journalists, but they also expect journalists to serve as watchdogs on government, businesses, and other actors, enabling people to make informed decisions on the issues of the time.
Journalism and the Profit Motive
The role of journalism in countries like the U.S., that enshrine press freedoms and have a strong independent and privately owned media sector, is unique in that media organizations are both businesses seeking to make a profit and also are considered to have a broader social role and responsibility. In fact, they are deemed to be a vital ingredient for a successfully functioning democracy. This dual role leads to tensions, especially when journalistic enterprises come under commercial pressure. This happened as newspaper circulation and advertising revenues declined in the U.S., especially with the rise of the Internet. Television news divisions are often not profitable either, particularly network news. These pressures lead to an emphasis on “what the market wants” – entertainment news and features, reality TV shows (which are low cost) at the expense of the idea of a social mission for media.
Supporters of community or civic journalism are especially critical of the purchase of media outlets by large corporations for whom journalism is not the primary business. These critics see that corporate interests and the profit motive drive the running of those media outlets, and any social role as a reliable and objective purveyor of the type of news necessary to cultivate an informed citizenry may simply disappear.
Some predict that journalism can only remain true to its original role by using the full extent of its abilities and influence to encourage the dissemination of truth and morality, and to work toward social betterment. The power of a moral media can guarantee that each generation bequeaths to the next a more peaceful, safer world than it has known.
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- Tom Zeller, Jr., Live from Paris: Everything You’re Not Supposed to Know The Lede, December 4, 2006. Retrieved April 20, 2021.
- Ken Blake, Inverted pyramid story format Middle Tennessee State University. Retrieved April 20, 2021.
- ‘Gonzo’ journalist Hunter S. Thompson dies ABC News, February 21, 2005. Retrieved April 20, 2021.
- NUJ code of conduct National Union for Journalists (UK). Retrieved April 20, 2021.
- SPJ Code of Ethics Society of Professional Journalists, September 6, 2014. Retrieved April 20, 2021.
- Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Set global example: Pass US journalism shield law Christian Science Monitor, September 15, 2005. Retrieved April 20, 2021.
- Walter Lippman, The Phantom Public (Edison, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1993.
- John Dewey, The Public and its Problems (Athens, OH: Swallow Press, 1954.
- Paul Johnson, What’s Wrong with the Media and How to Put it Right American Enterprise Institute Bradley Lecture Series, October 17, 1994. Retrieved April 20, 2021.
- Campbell, W. Joseph. The Year That Defined American Journalism. New York, NY: Routledge, 2006.
- Dewey, John. The Public and its Problems. Athens, OH: Swallow Press, 1954.
- Lippman, Walter. The Phantom Public. Edison, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1925.
- Raymond, Joad. The Invention of the Newspaper: English Newsbooks 1641-1649. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Originally published by New World Encyclopedia, 08.05.2001, under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.