Most of us know the Five Ws (and H) that are otherwise known as reporters’ questions. Did you know WHO developed them? We give credit to an English rhetorician named Thomas Wilson (1524-1581). He introduced the method in 1560, calling them the “seven circumstances” of medieval rhetoric. In his version, the seven questions were who, what, where, by what or whose help did events occur. Next are why, how, and when. Combined, these questions form the foundation of journalism.
In the centuries since, journalism has developed into both an art form as well as a formal profession. What is Journalism? It’s far more than just reporting. Being a journalist means embracing an identity that involves a specific set of values that journalists and reporters have clung to through every historical, political, and cultural change since the Middle Ages.
WHAT Is Journalism?
As a discipline, Journalism is the gathering, preparation, and distribution of news, features, and commentary. Delivery platforms are print as well as digital media. Printed media includes traditional newspapers, books, and magazines. Electronic media consists of a myriad of outlets, including blogs, podcasts, social media, radio, and television.
In all elective democracies, journalism is a professional identity for journalists who identify their role within society as an exclusive one. In the United States and other democratic nations, journalists have vehemently defended their profession, ethics, and ideology.
WHEN Does Journalism Support Democracy?
The link between democratic societies and journalism generates more questions about the nature of the profession. It also makes you wonder how and why the definition of journalism changes along with history. Journalism aids in the democratic process by reporting political and societal events. Through reporting, citizens understand current campaign happenings, debate results, and voting activities. In doing so, they also hold the government accountable.
Journalists also force citizens and the government alike to address public interest issues that the society would otherwise not see. Such issues become detrimental to freedom and democracy when we fail to address them. Thus, the media helps society to evolve and balance itself. At the local level, it creates public forums, disseminates information to citizens, and acts as a conduit of sorts for processes that healthy societies need to thrive.
All this works together to create tolerances that, in turn, foster cultural diversity. By keeping the people informed, journalism keeps people united and aligned.
WHERE Do We See the Cultural Impact of Journalism?
Aside from gathering and reporting information, Journalism impacts culture because it interacts with the arts and other disciplines. Whatever art, literature, music, or other cultural event is happening, media brings it to the people’s attention. Through event calendars, reviews, editorials, and so on, people are aware of performances, rituals, and creative offerings that would otherwise go unnoticed. This is how journalism contributes to the culture, adding to the greater good.
WHEN Did the Definition of Journalism Change?
The values and ideology within the field of Journalism adapt to cultural and technological change. After all, you now know that Journalism is far more than just obtaining and delivering news. American society grows more multicultural and diverse each year, let alone each decade. Also, the explosion of multimedia has challenged the very definition of Journalism.
The Twentieth Century changed more than just the delivery platforms for distributing the news. Through radio and television news, journalists could report the news instantly. No longer did we have to wait for the morning headlines. Listeners and viewers could tune into scheduled broadcasts. Emerging news stories were reported through emergency broadcasts.
Journalism and Social Media
With the advent of the Internet came the rise of social media. Legitimate as well as non-credible (“yellow journalism” and fake news) stories could be instantaneously shared with millions of people across social networks. Because like-minded people tend to post images and stories of their related interests, bias is created.
Also, the established integrity that journalists and investigative reporters embrace is called into question as more and more online sites and publications pop up without established credibility. Many feel that multimedia platforms are chiseling away at the traditional expectation that a professional journalist meticulously checks all the facts before publishing. On the other hand, the race to break a story first puts incredible pressure on reporters. Being the first to deliver is itself another form of credibility that, ironically, threatens the integrity of the profession.
One can post a fake news story with relative ease, and this poses a threat to the profession. Some go as far as to say that it threatens a free press and democracy itself.
What do you think? Where does Facebook and Twitter fit into your understanding of Journalism? Share your opinion in the comments!
WHY Consider a Career in Journalism?
Journalism is a challenging career, to say the least. However, it’s also a career that carries a great deal of personal integrity and professional identity. If you’re naturally inquisitive, or a storyteller by nature, you’re primed for a career as a reporter.
Successful reporters find themselves sent to places unknown. Depending on your specialty, you may even travel to unstable places. Or, you may be sent on an assignment with little notice. If all this seems exciting rather than upsetting, then Journalism may indeed be for you.
Journalists spend the majority of their time talking with people. If you’re good at interviewing and establishing the rapport needed to get answers, then you have a skill worth developing. Gathering sources and other information means you’ll be moving throughout the day. So, if your ideal job is NOT in a cubicle for 8.5 hours a day, remember that a journalist’s desk is almost always unoccupied.
Journalism requires you to be passionate about your work. It’s demanding but rewarding when you think about the integrity you’re pouring into every word of every article.
HOW Do I Become a Journalist?
Aside from the characteristics we discussed in the previous section, you do need a few other things to become a journalist. First, you need writing experience, even if it’s just practice. You’ll also need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university.
Once you are in the field, understand that most of the work falls under contracting and freelance. If you’re willing to move to a media hub like New York City, Atlanta, or Washington DC, you’re more likely to find a salaried position. A word of warning, however, reporter jobs for print publications are shrinking in number.