Thursday, 19 January 2012

The changing role of the journalist

Plenty of people have been discussing how to define a journalist and thinking about whether it's really the case that everyone is a journalist these days.

Martin Cloake takes former Independent editor Simon Kelner to task for saying “Anyone with a phone is now a journalist” in a speech at a Hacks and Hackers event. Kelner corrected this when questioned, as Cloake points out:
Kelner immediately qualified his comment, saying that what he really meant was that anyone with phone “could be” a journalist. He should be more careful when defining the debate, but he’s not the only person to sloppily put forward a view that is, in my opinion, extremely damaging.
But, says Cloake, there's more to journalism than simply publishing:
The great change that we are all dealing with is that anyone with access to technology can publish. But knowing why it is important to protect sources, to balance debate where necessary, to check facts and establish authority… these are just some of the things which distinguish journalism from communication.
This is a fair point. Journalists are professional filterers of information, fact checkers and askers of awkward questions. Some 'amateurs' do the same - perhaps occasionally better than the professionals - while some just record events.

The precise role of a journalist has always been a varied one. Paul Bradshaw raises the problem of defining a journalist in a collaborative age in response to a Press Gazette post. What happens, he asks, when more journalism is being done collaboratively:
If, for example, one person researches the regulations relating to an issue, another FOIs key documents; a third speaks to a victim; a fourth speaks to an expert; a fifth to the person responsible; and a sixth writes it all up into a coherent narrative – which one is the journalist?
Equally, any non-media folk watching or reading about the Leveson Inquiry might find it interesting to note that a journalist can be both someone who decides whether to run pictures and stories about celebrities and their weight and someone who takes politicians to task for their actions.

Journalism has always included a wide range of roles and activities. Admittedly there is a bit of churnalism but there's also space for some thoughtful analysis.

We know that the people we used to call the audience have a vital role to play in the process and if we fail to involve them and interact with them, we'll lose them. All we know for certain is that the range of roles and activities in journalism is just getting broader.

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