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What is Journalism? - Definition, Roles & Issues

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  • 0:02 What Is Journalism?
  • 2:05 The Role of Journalism
  • 3:03 Objectivity & Bias
  • 5:09 Verification & Accuracy
  • 6:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley is an attorney. She has taught and written various introductory law courses.

Journalism is an important component in a democratic society. This lesson defines journalism and examines several important roles and issues related to journalism.

What Is Journalism?

One person was taken to the Burn Center at Parkland Hospital after flames ripped through an East Dallas apartment complex.

This was the first line of a current newspaper article. Did you read a newspaper this morning? Maybe you watched the news on television or heard headlines broadcast on the radio. These are forms of journalism. Journalism is the act of gathering and presenting news and information. The term 'journalism' also refers to the news and information itself. It's important to notice the variety of information media today. The news and information can be presented in many different ways, including articles, reports, broadcasts, or even tweets.

Journalism is a form of communication, but it's distinct from other forms. It is unique because it's a one-way message, or story, from the journalist to the audience. It's most unique because the message isn't the journalist's personal story or subjective thoughts. Instead, the journalist acts as a conduit, narrating an objective story about something that happened or is happening, based on his or her observations and discoveries. This type of storytelling comes in many different forms, including:

  • Breaking news
  • Feature stories
  • Investigative reports
  • Editorials
  • Reviews
  • Blogs

Journalism's unique storytelling comes in the form of reporting. To report simply means to convey the facts of the story. Even in editorials and reviews, the journalist is conveying facts about the experience. The story can be analytical or interpretive and still be journalism. In general, reporting comes from interviewing, studying, examining, documenting, assessing, and researching. New journalists are often taught to report on the five Ws, so you'll notice that most pieces of journalism include some or all of these:

  • Who was it?
  • What did they do?
  • Where were they?
  • When did it happen?
  • Why did it happen?

The Role of Journalism

Journalism serves many different roles. Foremost, it serves to inform the public. It's an open medium, meaning the intended audience includes the entire community or public. Once the journalist reports the information - or sends the communication - that information is available to anyone wishing to receive it.

For that reason, journalism is an essential component in a democratic society. The freer the society, like the United States, the more news and information is available to the public. Citizens tend to be well-informed on issues affecting their communities, government, and everyday dealings. On the other hand, North Korea allows only limited access to independent news sources and almost no access to the Internet. The vast majority of news and information comes from the official Korean Central News Agency, which reports mainly on statements from the political leadership. This leaves citizens with only one, filtered point of view.

Objectivity & Bias

This type of bias is a key issue in journalism. Journalism is based on objectivity, meaning journalists must make every effort to report the news and information without allowing their preconceptions to influence the stories. There's a general acceptance that journalists, like all people, have inherent personal and cultural biases. These prejudices can be positive, negative, or neutral, and many are subconscious. Some biases are even thought to be organization-wide. For example, many people believe Fox News is biased toward the Republican Party, while MSNBC is biased toward the Democratic Party.

In the early 1900s, especially in the 1920s, there was a concerted push toward greater objectivity in journalism. After years of political propaganda and reporting based simply on 'realism', experts pushed for a consistent process for testing information that more closely resembled a scientific method.

When previously using a theory of realism, journalists were only tasked with finding and presenting the information. The common belief was that the truth would naturally surface through the conveyance of facts in the proper order - from most important to least important. However, the 'facts' were often slanted and ordered according to the journalist's prejudices.

Using a theory of objectivity, the facts are tested prior to reporting so that the information is conveyed in a transparent manner. This might mean the journalist manages his or her bias, rather than completely removing it. For example, this lesson expresses a bias toward a free society with an open media forum. To be transparent simply means to present the facts so that the audience can decide for themselves what to believe.

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