Tim P. Vos

1Journalism

Abstract: This chapter works through a broad and a theoretical definition of journalism. The broad definition centers on journalism as a kind of work. The theoretical definition focuses on the cultural, institutional, and material dimensions of journalism. The exercise highlights the complexities and controversies that accompany efforts to define and delimit the field. These complexities and controversies run through the various chapters of the book, which are contextualized in this introductory chapter.

Keywords: definition of journalism, theoretical definition, conceptualization, journalistic labor

Journalism is an amazingly rich field of study, generating interest from a variety of perspectives and disciplines. Much of this interest is owed to the vital role journalism plays in the life of a society. A variety of social actors – from policymakers to scientists to captains of industry to ordinary citizens – are invested in how journalism is constituted and performed. It has historically held significant consequences for how any collective behavior is negotiated and perceived and hence for the kind of social and physical world individuals inhabit. Journalism is significant simply because, like a mountain to be climbed, it’s there. “Journalism, in all its varieties, is the constant background and accompaniment to everyday life” (McNair 2005: 25).

But, for reasons that have little to do with journalism’s social importance, the field has been facing something of a crisis (Ryfe 2012). Economic and technological changes have been met with changes to how journalism is performed and by whom (Witschge et al. 2016). Newspapers have struggled, losing readers and shedding workers; broadcast news outlets have faced similar, albeit less severe, retrenchment; and online outlets have asserted themselves as new players in the field, shifting some traditional journalistic commitments. However, the work of journalism is no less vital and hence no less a source of constant fascination. Indeed, the seeming upheaval in journalism has made its attention and study even more compelling. We are fascinated with rethinking (Peters & Broersma 2016, 2013), reinventing (Waisbord 2013), reconsidering (Alexander, Breese & Luengo 2016), revisioning (Allan 2013), and reforming (Heinderyckx & Vos 2016) the field.

Some would no doubt quibble with the assertion that journalism is no less vital now than in the past. They can point to “random acts of journalism” (Holt & Karlsson 2014: 1795) that transcend the industrial forms of journalism that are lately in crisis. This is a legitimate point. But it also raises a fundamental question: what is journalism? Journalists and the field of journalism studies have already confronted the question of “who is a journalist?” (Black 2010; Ugland & Henderson 2007; Weaver 2005). It now too is confronting the question of “what is journalism?” (Deuze 2005; McNair 2005).

This chapter sets out to define journalism and, in the process, aims to highlight the various ways in which journalism can be examined and studied. Indeed, this volume is a demonstration of the many ways journalism can be conceptualized and explored. The chapter concludes by laying out the plan of the volume, highlighting the continued vitality of journalism as a field of practice and study.

1Defining journalism

Defining any concept comes with inherent tensions. One tension is between the specific and the general. The more elaborate the definition the more specific it can be. But in defining a concept in terms of the trees, one can lose sight of the forest. The conceptual properties are lost. Closely related to this issue is the tension between the particular and the universal. In defining a concept in particular terms, it can become too situated in the present, foreclosing the possibility of studying a concept over time. Similarly, the definition, when too specific and too particular, can also be too local, preventing us from a global view of the concept. And while definitions generally focus on the empirical manifestations of a concept, there is a tension here with the normative. Value choices are inevitably made when delimiting a concept. The definition of journalism offered in this chapter hopefully negotiates these tensions satisfactorily. However, it will start with a broad definition of journalism as a way of highlighting some of the key debates in the field.

Defining journalism is a daunting task, partly because it is a mega-concept – a conceptual conglomerate “entangled with a number of often unspecified concepts” (McLeod & Pan 2004: 17) – and partly because the empirical referent that journalism signifies keeps shifting (Schudson 2013). This makes definition of journalism something of a fool’s errand. But, the task also seems unavoidable. There are a number of important reasons to define it, ranging from the theoretical to the pedagogical to the legal. I touch on only a few of the reasons here.

First, a reason to define journalism is because concepts are central to theory building and hence central to the theoretical work that is at the heart of the academic enterprise (Shoemaker, Tankard & Lasorsa 2004). In addition to being a mega-concept, journalism also functions as a class concept (McLeod & Pan 2004); that is, we explore a set of messages that we associate with journalism as distinct, for example, from a class of messages that we associate with public relations, which also produces things that appear to be acts of journalism. Research that compared the framing of climate change from journalism and public relations messages would need to begin by making a distinction between what is journalism and what is not. Likewise, if citizens are unable to make the conceptual distinction between these two phenomena, there are consequences for the formation – or malformation – of public opinion (Vaughn 1980).

Second, defining journalism serves a pedagogical purpose, socializing new entrants into the journalistic field. Whether the definition comes from a textbook or from an editor or news director, the effect is much the same. Those new to the endeavor are led to attend to certain features of journalism. Definitions – by definition – are exclusive, limiting what factors are and are not constitutive of a concept (Shapiro 2014). The utility of this exclusion is to focus our attention to a parsimonious set of characteristics that can guide meaningful action and reflection.

Third, there are legal – and subsequent ethical or moral – reasons for defining journalism, and who is a journalist. Who is and who is not afforded legal protections and privileges afforded to journalists is important to those who find themselves on the wrong side of disputes with government and other authorities (Peters & Tandoc Jr 2013). Shield laws, for example, legally define who is a journalist so as to specify who can claim the privilege of not testifying in court about the identity of a source of information. Here, the broader the definition, the greater the number of those protected. The way journalism is defined can be, in certain times and certain places, a matter of freedom and incarceration or even life and death.

So, fool’s errand or not, a definition of journalism cannot really be avoided. The only foolishness is in believing a once-and-for-all definition is possible. The definition offered here is partly theoretical and partly pedagogical. The goal is to flush out the debates about the field that are often implicit – and sometimes explicit – in any definition.

1.1A broad definition

I do not dwell on how others have defined journalism. Each attempt has its merits. For example, Schudson (2012: 3) offers a broad definition that touches on many of the same themes as the definitions put forward in this chapter:

Journalism is the business or practice of regularly producing and disseminating information about contemporary affairs of public interest and importance. It is a set of institutions that publicizes periodically (usually daily but now with online updates continuously) information and commentary on contemporary affairs, normally presented as true and sincere, to a dispersed and usually anonymous audience so as to publicly include that audience in a discourse taken to be publicly important.

Craft and Davis’s (2016: 34) definition is thoughtful and concise: “Journalism is a set of transparent, independent procedures aimed at gathering, verifying and reporting truthful information of consequence to citizens in a democracy.” The chief merits of this pedagogical definition are that it enumerates both the values and practices that constitute journalism. Shapiro (2014: 555) offers a functional definition of journalism, meaning that his definition focuses on practices: “Journalism comprises the activities involved in an independent pursuit of accurate information about current or recent events and its original presentation for public edification.”

Here, I offer an initial broad definition and unpack the issues implicit in the definition, before returning to offer a theoretical definition more suited to guiding empirical inquiry. Journalism is the socially valued and structured work of crafting and distributing socially significant news and discussion.

The first initial component to consider here is defining journalism as work. This underscores that journalism is a kind of labor (Örnebring 2010). By defining it as work, a number of things are excluded from the definition – one exclusion is noted here: Journalism is distinct from the texts (broadly defined; see McKee 2003) that journalism produces. In common expression one might see a compelling news story and say, ‘that’s good journalism’. But, the definition proffered here would interpret such an observation to be about the work that went into creating the text and not the text itself. Even with this exclusion, the focus on ‘work’ leaves for a broad definition.

The broadness of the definition sidesteps a few ongoing debates that would seek to bake in or “smuggle” in (Schudson 2003: 14) particular perspectives to the definition of journalism. For example, Zelizer (2004) has noted that definitions of journalism can be arranged under at least five groupings. One of those groupings – already noted – is conceptualizing journalism as a text. She also points to journalism as a profession, as an institution, as people, and as practices. The broadness of the definition above is meant to avoid picking one of these approaches.

Thus, this focus on “work” avoids the debate about the professional nature of work. Some journalists and journalism studies scholars have embraced the idea of journalism being a profession. It not only ennobles the work, it speaks to its social purpose. A profession’s obligation is to the public, not to the self or to the financial or political ends of publishers (Davis 2010). That obligation is expressed in formal codes of ethics, creating a socially respected identity for the field (Ward 2004). A profession has authority and autonomy in regulating itself, which speaks to a normative desire to define journalism in terms of press freedom and freedom of speech (Craft 2010). Meanwhile, some practitioners and scholars have chafed at the notion of journalism as a profession. They question whether journalism can really be a profession if its membership is not controlled, if it has no monopoly on specialized knowledge, and so forth. Some have even questioned whether professionalism, which involves some level of self-regulation, might be its own form of limiting press freedom (Merrill 1990). However, work is described in this definition as socially valued, which highlights some of the same goods that professionalism promises. Journalistic work is rooted in an informal social contract: providing public service in exchange for some degree of press freedom.

Some who have rejected the idea of journalism being a profession have opted for journalism being understood as a craft (Adam & Clark 2006). This still conveys the occupational nature of the work of journalism. The notion of craft also underscores the artistry involved in crafting compelling narratives, or other forms of presentation (Adam 1993). With this conceptualization, the skillfulness of the work is what separates it from the quasi-journalistic attempts of social media posts or other interlopers. But, “craft” fails to convey the social import, its significance beyond the here and now. Carey (2007: 4) indicates as much in an essay on the craft of journalism: “(J)ournalism is a craft of place; it works by the light of local knowledge. What journalists know and how they know it, what journalists write and how they write it, what stories interest journalists and the form that interest takes, is pretty much governed by the here and now.” The definition offered above does indeed stipulate that journalism is the work of “crafting”. However, while this choice of words communicates something of the skill involved in producing news, it is not posited as the central, defining feature of journalism.

Meanwhile, by noting that the work is “structured” the definition identifies that journalistic work is not simply unorganized labor (see also, Örnebring 2010). It may or may not be a profession or a craft, but the work is guided by principles and routines. This definition does not use the term institution to describe journalism, but it just as well could have. That’s if we define institutions as “social patterns of behavior identifiable across organizations that extend over space and endure over time” (Hanitzsch & Vos 2017: 5) or as “shared norms and informal rules” (Sparrow 2006: 155). The work-based definition is not limited to simple practice, in other words; it is practice shaped by social values. In fact, I do not mean to exclude via this definition the notion that journalism is a set of ideas – an “ism” (Nerone 2013). Indeed, this is central to what journalism is. But, norms and rules only become empirical indicators of journalism when they are expressed – verbally, but also through action; that is, through work.

The work-based definition sidesteps another debate in that it avoids defining the work as explicitly human labor. With the advent of machine-written news, the question arises whether this “work” counts as journalism (van Dalen 2012). Or, put another way, is robot journalism still journalism? This definition leaves open that possibility – since the computation work performed by computers creates (or, in a broad sense, crafts) news. Journalistic labor has almost always meant a combination of machine labor and human labor – a combination that accelerated in the late 20th century as computers became commonplace in newsrooms (Örnebring 2010). Thus, “work” here need not preclude nonhuman forms of labor.

I want to return to the adjectives used to describe journalism as work: socially valued and structured. As already noted, structured work refers to the fact that journalistic work manifests principles and routines. This distinguishes journalism from “random acts of journalism” or one-time occurrences that may look like journalism but are not disciplined by underlying principles and routines. Indeed, the reference to work – which by definition refers to a sustained effort – is meant to suggest that journalism is an ongoing, purpose-driven labor. The reference to socially valued work indicates that the purpose is fundamentally a public good. This distinguishes the work of journalism from work that primarily serves private ends, such as advertising and many forms of public relations. This emphasis touches again on the institutional nature of journalism – a social institution, if it is legitimate, is rooted in broad social values (Vos 2016).

Neither of these adjectives indicates the way in which the work is valued or structured. That is, it does not list or describe particular structures (for example, interviewing or observing public figures, verifying information as accurate, or writing news in an inverted pyramid format) or values (for example, the values of honesty, independence, or democratic self-governance). While this lack of detail might be a weakness in terms of the concreteness of the definition, nevertheless this does serve a purpose. The fact is that the values and structures of journalism have shifted over time and vary by place. A more concrete definition can capture the here and now but make it very difficult to make cross cultural or historical comparison. Note that the Craft and Davis (2016) definition ties the meaning of journalism to its democratic value. This makes sense given their focus on American journalism. However, others and I (Hanitzsch & Vos 2016; Zelizer 2013; Josephi 2013) have argued that journalism can and does exist in places with minimal democracy. This is not to say that honesty, independence or contribution to democracy is unimportant. There is no doubt great normative worth in such values. However, journalism as a form of work need not be defined in these terms, lest we write off non-Western and non-modern forms of journalism entirely.

Likewise, the definition avoids making the economic value of journalistic work a defining feature of the field. One can certainly argue that economic value is a form of social value. Schudson’s (2012: 3) definition of journalism begins by labeling it as a “business or practice”. Bourdieu (2005) has conceptualized journalism as having an economic pole – a pole that explains much of why journalism functions the way it does. While it is certainly justifiable to define journalism as a business, it has not always been so, nor has it been so in all places. Again, this unnecessarily limits comparisons across time and place. (Granted, Schudson defines journalism as a business “or” practice.)

One might object that defining journalism as socially valued makes the work too dependent on the public’s opinion about journalism at a particular moment. The institution of journalism is not roundly loved, or even appreciated (Kovach & Rosenstiel 2014). However, to say that work is socially valued is not to tie it to public opinion, particularly if public opinion is defined by what a poll measures at a moment in time (Herbst 1993). However, critics of the news media do not really aim to redefine or delimit journalism – they typically just want the news media to live up to the social values usually associated with journalism, such as honesty, independence, and serving self-governance (Vos, Craft & Ashley 2012; Craft, Vos & Wolfgang 2016).

The definition of journalism offered here does identify two forms of work that constitute journalism: crafting and distributing. Crafting, in addition to connotations of artistry, refers to the work of gathering, culling, and forging. Information is collected, evaluated, and separated. Then, news and discussion are formulated and presented (Shoemaker & Vos 2009). This is sometimes referred to as news work (Hardt & Brennen 1995; Deuze 2008). Some have pointed out that we live an information economy (Frenkel 1999) or information society (Beniger 1986). However, journalism is distinct from these broader endeavors in as much as journalism involves crafting or forging information into something else, that is, news and discussion. This definition also serves as an antidote to ideas that news can simply be gathered like a crop from a field (Vos & Finneman 2017) or that it mirrors some external reality (Zelizer 2005) – ideas meant to convey that news workers are objective conduits of news.

The work of distributing should not be short-changed in this definition. Distribution is not simply a matter of sending or posting news, something anyone with access to the mail or to social media can do. Distribution implies apportioning or spreading out in a systematic way. In other words, journalism produces a public good and thus must be distributed to the public, or some portion of it. Distribution is an essential institutional feature, built into the purpose of doing news work. Including the work of distribution in this definition also serves as a reminder that journalism is not reducible to reporting. Indeed, the work of crafting is also broader than reporting – it includes editing, illustrating, data visualization, and designing. Journalism, then, involves both crafting and distributing. One without the other would not be a complete definition.

The final part of the definition offered here is perhaps the most important. It involves the crafting and distributing of news and discussion. Defining news presents its own set of challenges. Stephens (1996: 9) offers a definition that seeks to span different times and places: “(N)ew information about a subject of some public interest that is shared with some portion of the public.” Stephens argues that this definition distinguishes news from historical data, art, government intelligence, and chitchat. Definitions of news come with strong normative impulses (Stephens 1996; Schudson 1978). Some have sought to exclude forms of so-called soft news that are deemed of little social value. Nevertheless, defined in this way a definition of journalism would have little need to qualify news as socially significant, since this is built into the definition of news. “Socially significant” is part of this chapter’s definition of journalism more as a modifier of discussion than of news.

News, in the modern context, is mostly about recent events or occurrences. However, journalism has not always been so event driven; it has also been driven by ideas (Dicken-Garcia 1989). Discussion is included in this definition to capture something of idea-driven journalistic discourse. Thus, discussion is meant to be a broad term, capturing commentary, editorials, advice, and other forms of idea-based discourse. Some journalists have complained that discussion – particularly when it comes from bloggers, citizens, or others who are at the boundaries of journalism – is simply derivative of true journalism. But this complaint unnecessarily devalues the kind of reflexive discourse common in journalistic work, particularly in different times and places where news and discussion have been blended rather than distinct forms. Journalism includes a place for discussion, even when that work is not done by professional journalists. Op-eds, letters to the editor, and reader comments should rightly be considered within journalism’s purview rather than as an unwelcome incursion. Journalistic work gives structure to discussion, the lifeblood of the public sphere.

News and discussion are described here as socially significant. This again underscores that we are talking about a public good and service. News, in a narrow sense, might be the telling of any new occurrence. And discussion happens in almost any setting where two or more persons are present. Journalism, however, offers news and discussion that serve a social purpose, connecting people to events and discussions that shape the world we share. There is a danger here if we conceive of social significance as so-called hard news about the affairs of the public sphere. News and discussion can deal with the affairs of “everyday life”, provided those affairs deal with issues significant to social coexistence (Hanitzsch & Vos 2016).

Some definitions of journalism add adjectives to describe news, or in the case of the Schudson (2012), Craft and Davis (2016) and Shapiro (2014) definitions to describe information, as true, truthful, sincere, or accurate. However, this ultimately leads to additional definitional problems if applied to news. News, by definition, is generally truthful and accurate. To suggest otherwise is to pulled into a no-win situation of acknowledging the validity of constructs like “fake news” (Peters 2017). Fake news, for purposes of clarity and honesty, should probably be called lies, scams, or propaganda. Adding adjectives such as truthful and accurate also raises an epistemological issue – any account of an event is inevitably unable to fully capture the reality of the event (hence the use of “generally” above). Documentary filmmakers and scholars have been clearer eyed in confronting this issue than most journalists or journalism educators (Rosenthal & Corner 2005). The definition of journalism offered here sidesteps these issues by skipping qualifiers such as accurate and truthful.

This definition can be faulted for any number of reasons, depending on where the reader comes down on the underlying tensions of definition: the specific versus the general, the particular versus the universal, the local versus the global, and the empirical versus the normative. The utility of this exercise has been in opening up these tensions and highlighting some of the conceptual issues facing the field of journalism studies. However, if the purpose of definition is to arrive at a theoretical construct that can lead to operationalization, then the above definition is a mixed bag. Thus, I next offer a revised definition that is more conducive to theory building.

1.2A theoretical definition

A theoretical definition “conveys the meaning we attach to the concept and generally suggests indicators of it” (Shoemaker, Tankard & Lasorsa 2004: 26). Hence, a theoretical or conceptual definition hints at the empirical referents of the concept in ways that a broader definition might not. Much of the above definition still works as a theoretical definition. However, while the definition above defines journalism as socially valued and structured work, the theoretical definition would seek to specify the range of observable phenomena that constitutes journalism. This is still a broad definition, but also one that directs scholarly attention to distinct dimensions of the concept.

The working theoretical definition of journalism offered here seeks to theoretically unpack the structures that guide journalistic work: Journalism is a set of beliefs, forms, and practices involved in the crafting and distributing of socially significant news and discussion. This is a starting point for working toward a more concrete definition. It does not define the particular beliefs, forms, or practices that constitute journalism, in no small part because these will shift or have shifted – probably only slightly – across time and place.

The inclusion of beliefs taps into a cultural and institutional dimension of journalism. Or, put another way, the work of journalism reflects cultural values, attitudes, and ideas and reflects institutional roles, rules, and scripts. All of these beliefs are expressed most explicitly in journalistic discourse about journalism: “Journalism and journalistic roles have no ‘true’ essence; they exist because and as we talk about them” (Hanitzsch & Vos 2017: 130). These beliefs are also expressed implicitly – and hence less empirically ascertainably – in journalism practice. One approach to journalism as beliefs is proposed by Deuze (2005), who conceptualizes journalism as an occupational ideology. The chief precepts of that ideology speak to values of public service, objectivity, autonomy, immediacy, and ethics. This speaks directly to the notion that journalism is an “ism” – a theory, doctrine, cause, or a “belief system” (Nerone 2013: 447).

The addition of forms to the definition reflects the material dimensions of journalism. Thus, journalism can be studied by attending to technological, geographical, and economic manifestations. While journalism may be less identified in terms of its technological features than in the past (Deuze 2005), it has nevertheless always involved some material elements (Winston 1998). A glance at a newspaper page, newscast, or news website provides powerful clues that the contents are the result of journalistic work. While the forms can be copied or coopted for advertising or propaganda purposes, the forms are particularly suited to journalistic purposes. As Barnhurst and Nerone (2001: 3) have argued, “form embodies the imagined relationship of a medium to its society and polity”. Likewise, journalism is work done in a physical, geographical space – a space designed to suit a journalistic purpose – and it is done as part of an economic relationship in which journalistic work involves an exchange of goods and services. All of which is to say that journalism takes on material forms and in turn is shaped by its material forms.

The inclusion of practices in the definition of journalism elicits something of the institutional nature of the work. Journalism can be studied by observing what journalists and others do. As highlighted in the discussion above, work and practices are not arbitrary, but instead are structured by generally agreed upon roles and rules, which, if not unique to journalism, are very close to it. These practices also manifest as organizational forms – arrangements for the coordination of human and machine labor. These organizational manifestations would be another site of study. Divisions of labor involving editors, reporters, and designers, for instance, are an expression of the coordinated, collective action that organizations facilitate. Organizational forms have certainly changed in recent years (Vos & Singer 2016; Mitchelstein & Boczkowski 2009). And organizations may vary in terms of their size, hierarchical orientation, and profit orientation (Shoemaker & Vos 2009). Yet journalism has traditionally been practiced in a structured setting.

We should not overlook the use of set in the definition of journalism. Any particular empirical expression of journalism may not be unique to journalism. Public relations practitioners use some similar practices, for example. However, the indicators posited here hold together in a plausible – if not entirely rational – way as an expression of journalism.

The rest of the definition is largely the same offered above. However, here too, news would need to be defined in more theoretical terms, pointing to empirical referents for the concept. For example, Shoemaker and Cohen (2006) have defined news in terms of social significance and deviance. Social significance is simply a matter of what has relevance to a society. They identify four kinds of social significance: political, economic, cultural, and public significance. Deviance gets at the concept of newness. It is “a characteristic of people, ideas, or events that sets them aside as different apart from others in the region, community, neighborhood, family, and so on” (Shoemaker & Cohen 2006: 7). They parse three forms of deviance: statistical, social change, and normative deviance. Each of these concepts is operationalized to study news content, thus demonstrating the way in which operational definitions can be derived from theoretical definitions.

The point, however, is not to define each and every word. This pulls us down the path of infinite regress – defining the terms we use to define the terms we use in our definition. However, this overview provides a sense of journalism’s overall meaning.

The point of this exercise was not only to define this book’s object of study, but also to underscore the complex array of dimensions and perspectives that journalism evokes. Journalism is a global phenomenon with a suitably long history. It is indeed a fool’s errand to proffer a definitive delineation of the concept. What is offered here is an entry into the complicated debates about journalism’s nature. It also serves as a jumping off point for the varied ways in which this volume explores this thing we call journalism.

2The contribution to journalism studies

This book demonstrates the vast variety of ways in which journalism can be examined. This, of course, is not the first volume that attempts to examine the varied meanings, consequences, and elements of journalism. However, this book provides fresh perspectives in two broad ways. First, rather than a safe recitation of accepted maxims of the field, it attempts to portray the variety and complexity of journalism today, while also providing innovative conceptual, disciplinary, and international lenses for examining the field. Second, the economic and technological foundations of the journalism profession have shifted dramatically in recent years, such that research and theory about the empirical realities of journalism are necessarily in flux as well. This volume seeks to capture the ferment in the professional and academic fields.

However, to frame that ferment, the volume opens with this chapter, which seeks to capture something of the enduring nature of journalism, and a chapter that explores the history of the field. The chapter by John Nerone pulls together those historical threads that have constituted journalism as a (sometimes troubled) social institution with those threads that portend the destabilization of journalism. The chapter highlights the path dependent processes that have brought disruption and vibrancy to the field, and therein, the chapter foretells many of the themes the handbook explores.

The next section expounds on The Foundations of the Field, delving into the features of journalism largely sidestepped in the opening chapter. These foundations are conceived in terms of the roles, epistemologies, and ethics of journalism, an approach laid out by Thomas Hanitzsh (2007), who authors the chapter on journalistic roles. Hanitzsch’s chapter on roles examines the ways journalists have conceived their roles in the West and elsewhere. This approach explores normative theories of the press and highlights the relationship between social systems and media actors within those systems. The chapter on epistemologies, by Stephen J. A. Ward, while connected in various ways to media roles, explores the various truth-telling approaches and strategies that journalists use or have used. Notions of objectivity play a central role, but the chapter explores alternatives and highlights emerging areas, such as digital epistemologies. Ethics is the third topic in this section of the handbook. The chapter by Patrick Plaisance explores the ethical boundaries that have guided actors in the field. While conceptual in focus – the chapter explores ethics as a branch of moral philosophy – Plaisance also highlights specific ethical challenges of journalism, such as conflicts of interest, minimization of harm, and respect for audiences, all made more urgent in a digital environment. Hence, all three chapters broach the historical foundations that have helped constitute journalism as an autonomous field, while also exploring the ways in which these foundations may be shifting in the present. These three foundational concepts are also addressed in subsequent chapters of the volume. The overview of the operative issues related to roles, epistemologies, and ethics provides a map for the debates raised in later chapters.

The next section of this handbook offers fours ways of Conceptualizing the Field. This section of the handbook is also foundational to subsequent chapters since it brings conceptual clarity to the issues related to journalism. Tamara Witschge and Frank Harbers’ chapter conceptualizes journalism as practice; the chapter by Wilson Lowrey explores the ways in which journalism can be conceived as an institution; Brian McNair’s chapter conceives of journalism as public sphere; and the chapter by Carolyn Kitch lays out the provocative idea of journalism as memory. Of course, journalism can be all of these things. However, when talking about the history of journalism, the foundations of journalism, and the problems or issues of journalism, it is incumbent on scholars to proceed with conceptual clarity about what they mean by “journalism”.

The section on Theorizing the Field revisits three classic theories that have defined journalism studies: agenda setting, framing, and gatekeeping. Each is native to journalism studies, as opposed to countless theories that have been imported to the field. Each has developed over decades and has been used to explore a broad array of phenomena. And each corresponds to one of the three sites of study in our field: news effects, news texts, and news production. These chapters spotlight the ways all three of these traditions are being revitalized given the rapidly shifting empirical realities of the journalism field. The proliferation of digital media, for example, has been the occasion for a new wave of scholarship in all three of these traditions. The chapter by Wayne Wanta and Mariam Alkazemi argues for the continued relevance of agenda setting scholarship, pointing to no less than six branches of the theory in contemporary journalism scholarship. Paul D’Angelo and Donna Shaw’s chapter offers an overview of framing research, highlighting the “thriving and healthy intellectual” debates that make the theory as vital as ever. And the chapter by Edson C. Tandoc, Jr offers fresh insights into gatekeeping in a digital age.

The section on Journalism Via the Disciplines demonstrates the profound ways in which journalism studies has been and might still be shaped by cross-disciplinary examination. Some of these disciplinary approaches are well established in journalism studies, others are less so. The chapter by Valerie Belair-Gagnon and Mattias Revers lays out the sociology of journalism; the chapter by Robert G. Picard examines the economics of journalism; next, Anthony Mills and Katharine Sarikakis explore the politics and policy of journalism; Angela Phillips’ chapter delves into the technology of journalism; and finally Robert E. Gutsche, Jr and Alina Rafikova examine the implications of the geography of journalism. Each of these chapters explores a range of theoretical and empirical concerns that face the field. For example, the chapter on journalism and geography addresses two important phenomena – the growth of hyperlocal journalism and the continued emergence of transnational journalism. The chapter on the psychology of journalism explores earlier efforts to theorize about journalism, particularly news, through the lens of evolutionary psychology, while ultimately focusing on the psychophysiology of news construction and news processing. Taken together, the chapters point the way to a broad interdisciplinary agenda for journalism research, underscoring the cultural, institutional, and material dimensions of the field.

The book’s next section, The Journalism Ecology, also provides an opportunity for examining some of the new or emerging forms of journalism that depart in some fashion from legacy or so-called mainstream journalism. The function of the section is to contextualize the long tradition of mainstream journalistic research by pointing to the ways in which journalism is produced or performed outside the usual confines of institutionalized journalism. This section addresses, more directly than other sections, the matter of the seeming re-institutionalization of journalism.

Each chapter considers what each form of journalism or quasi-journalism contributes to the news and information ecosystem. The chapter on entrepreneurial journalism by Jane Singer draws attention to the alternative organizational structures of new types of newsrooms. The chapter by An Nguyen and Salvatore Scifo critically interrogates the phenomenon of citizen journalism, offering a typology for three forms of citizen journalism. Ryan J. Thomas’ chapter confronts the issues also raised in this opening chapter – what is journalism? – in an effort to position advocacy journalism as a legitimate contribution to the journalism ecology. Both citizen journalism and advocacy journalism have faced critics who would just as soon reject the notion that these efforts are legitimate journalism. The chapter by Stephanie Craft maps the place of documentary journalism within the journalism ecology. As Craft points out, documentary film and journalism, for all their past differences, are seemingly intersecting as documentary production is increasingly populated by former journalists. Again, attention is brought around to the similarities and differences with so-called mainstream journalism. Finally, the chapter by Folker Hanusch addresses the place of lifestyle journalism. Lifestyle journalism has long had a place in legacy news media, however its standing has often been marginalized. Hanusch navigates lifestyle journalism toward a more suitable position in the field. Overall, this section moves the research agenda in journalism studies beyond journalism’s traditional institutional forms and brings to the fore practices at the periphery of journalism.

The section on The Issues of Journalism addresses both enduring and newly emergent concerns facing the field. The chapters raise defining issues: the role of journalistic autonomy in an environment where web analytics and social media have made the audience ever more present in the construction of news, the threat to human self-expression and the free flow of information in a world of censorship and propaganda, the prospects for changing the barriers to entrance into a marketplace of ideas, journalism’s impact on the prospects of war and peace, and the reproduction of cultural hierarchies based on race and gender.

The chapter by Beverly Horvit, Carlos A. Cortés-Martínez, and Kimberly Kelling lays out the issues that emerge when journalists cover – or do not cover – wars and conflicts. The chapter by Cherian George explores the issue of censorship and the seemingly never-ending threats to press freedom in the world today. Kari Karppinen’s chapter deals with the issues of pluralism and diversity. In the next chapter, Cristina Mislán tackles the matters of race and gender. And the chapter by Annika Sehl examines how journalism is dealing with audiences and community engagement. This section addresses the “so what?” issues of journalism studies while engaging in a kind of press criticism that reinforces the vitality and potency of journalism scholarship and theory.

The two concluding chapters provide symmetry with the two introductory chapters. The chapter on journalism and change by Henrik Örnebring brings attention to those factors that bring about the kinds of change that have been highlighted in the volume. We see how temporality has been and can be built into theorizing about journalism practice. The final chapter by François Heinderyckx looks ahead more directly to the future of journalism as a scholarly discipline, pointing to the importance of journalism scholarship that should sit at the heart of the academy. While rapid technological and economic changes have rightly consumed the discipline, this chapter points the way to new and enduring concerns that bear deeper scrutiny.

This volume confronts a world of journalism that simply does not “hold still” (Schudson 2013: 191). For all the talk about the decline of journalism, it remains a vital field of work and of study, always moving, always evolving, and always in need of scrutiny.

Further reading

Scholarly efforts to define journalism have been highlighted in this chapter. Schudson’s (2003, 2012) The Sociology of News elaborates on his initial definition, demonstrating journalism’s deep connections to its cultural and historical contexts. As the title suggests, Craft and Davis’s (2016) text, Principles of American Journalism, delves into the specific beliefs, forms, and practices that constitute journalism. Likewise, Deuze’s (2005) article focuses on the beliefs or ideology that constitute journalism. Shapiro’s (2014) article lays out the issues involved in defining journalism and raises many thoughtful questions about the evolving field. Some readers will likely want to move from defining journalism to defining journalists. The article by Peters and Tandoc (2013) is a good place to start.

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