Chapter 2
Culture of Journalism

Chapter 2 - Culture of Journalism

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Should journalists share quotes?

The practice of journalism has developed a culture all its own. That culture has expectations of professionals and non-professionals who would engage in journalistic endeavors. Understanding that culture is the point of this chapter.

Journalism is traditionally practiced through news organizations such as newspapers, broadcasting stations or news web sites. These organizations have their individual modes of operations and cultural expectations, but they are part of a larger culture in which the profession is practiced.

Despite its special place in legal and political arenas, journalism is still an economic enterprise. Journalistic organizations must make a profit to survive. Most do -- and a very healthy profit, at that.

Key to understanding the culture of journalism are the concepts of honesty, objectivity, persistence and competition. Journalists must approach their jobs with an honest frame of mind, seeing what they do as a public service rather than as a way of making money.

Study questions
  • List some of the things that make the culture of journalism distinctive.

  • What are some of the characteristics a person should have to be a good journalist?

  • How does the description of journalists in the text differ from the way they are portrayed in movies and on television?

  • What is the difference between skepticism and cynicism, particularly for journalists?

  • What is objectivity? Why is it important? Can journalists achieve true objectivity? Why or why not?

  • What are the most unacceptable practices a journalists can engage in?

  • Why are deadlines so important to journalism?

  • What is civic journalism and what makes it different from traditional journalism?

Chapter notes

Cultural norms. Journalists do not work alone. They are part of a larger culture that has its conventions and norms. It's important to understand some of these cultural norms:

  • Objectivity and fairness. This is a much debated idea. Can anyone be truly objective? Probably not, but journalists still have the obligation to consider many sides of an issue and to question how people will react to their presentation of information.

  • Accuracy. The chief goal of the journalist is to present accurate information in an accurate context so that people will understand it as the journalist understands it. Much of the reporting, editing and production process of journalism is directed to ensuring that accurate information is the consistent product of the media. This goal, too, is an ideal. Often inaccurate information in an inaccurate context is produced by the journalist. The goal, however, never changes.

  • Attention to detail. Part of the accuracy mantra is attention to detail. Reporters must check the spelling of every name they use; they must be exact in the wording of direct quotations; they must often confirm what they think they know or what they have heard with other, reliable sources. Because many people will read or hear what they report, they can leave very little to chance.

  • Mix of individual and corporate effort. Reporters understand that while much of their effort is individual, they represent a news organization that in itself has certain values and objectives. Reporters must balance their loyalties to their employers, their profession and their personal beliefs. In most cases, there is no conflict among these, but occasionally there is.

  • Deadlines. Print reporters lack two things: time and space. Broadcast reporters lack time and time. In both cases, the first "time" refers to the lack of time to do a story as completely as they would like. Deadlines always intrude on a reporter's work. In the print media, presses must roll at certain times of the day or night, and the work of the journalist must be finished for that to happen. In broadcasting, deadlines are even more arbitrary. They occur when the newscast begins, and they cannot be wished away. In both cases, reporters often have to "go with what they have" rather than taking the time to be more complete or thorough.

  • Skepticism. Journalists attempt never to be gullible. They do not want to be taken in by those who give them false information. At the same time, they should not be cynical, disbelieving everything that is said to them. Instead, they should always be willing to question their source and check what they have against other information they might receive.

  • Sense of "greater good." Reporters generally believe they are in journalism for a reason other than making money or making a living or even for satisfying their personal desires. They generally hold to the belief that good information is good for society; that sharing that information helps society function.

Key concepts and terms

• Journalism has a distinct culture with norms, conventions and expectations of behavior from those who are part of the culture. Many of those expectations are fueled by the public service aspects of the profession – the feeling among journalists that they are working for the public good, not just for their private benefit.

• The processes of journalism are ideally governed by journalists themselves; few rules or restraints are imposed upon them from outside the profession.

• Despite the fact that many inside journalism consider it a profession, no rules or barriers bar those who want to become journalists; there are no educational or professional requirements to becoming a journalist.

• A basic cultural requirement of journalism is that those in the professional have a high level of skill in using the language.

News organizations – entities that gather news and disseminate it to an audience.

Accuracy – the chief goal of journalists in producing and presenting news and information.

Civic journalism – a controversial concept that says journalism should be more than just observing society; it should be devoted to finding solutions to society’s problems.

• Dishonesty and plagiarism are two of the chief unacceptable practices in journalism.

• Many of the practices of journalism are governed by competition; journalists want to be the first to publish or broadcast information, and they want to do it better than other journalists.

Related web sites for Chapter 2

Best Practices: The Art of Leadership in News Organizations

Media Leaders Forum

Committee of Concerned Journalists

The Pulitzer Prizes

Section I | 1: News and Society  |  2: Culture of Journalism  |  3: Becoming a Journalist
Section II  |  4: Newspapers  |  5: Magazines  |  6: Television and Radio  |  7: News Web Sites
Section III  |  8: Reporters  |  9: Reporting  |  10: Writing news and features  |  11: Style  | 
12: Editors13: Editing and headline writing  |  14: Visual Journalists  |
  15: Graphics Journalism  |  16: Photojournalism  |  17: Publication Design  |
  18: Broadcasters  |  19: Writing for Broadcast
Section IV  |  20: Beginnings of Journalism  |  21: Journalism Comes of Age  | 
22: New Realities, New Journalism  |   23: 20th Century and Beyond
Section V  |  24: Law and the Journalist  |  25: Ethical Practices  |   26: Present and Future
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