Differentiating Journalism from Other Media

warThis essay presents an analysis on what differentiates journalism from other parts of the media and communications industry. Social media, public relations and talkback radio will be examined to demonstrate the differences of journalism to other media. To understand what differentiates journalism from these other forms of media one must first understand what journalism is and this will be discussed in the essay.

Journalism is not an easy thing to define and many complex definitions exist. Some have described it as ‘a hybrid, interdisciplinary mix of the humanities and the social sciences’ (Reece, 1999, p.72) whilst others have said it is

a vernacular form of literature, an imaginative practice that emerged at a given historical moment…in relationship to the growth of literacy and above all, the social movement of republican democracy (Carey, in McKnight 2000, p.17).

And ‘it helps us make sense of our world by developing our understanding, learning and intuition’ (Lamble, 2011, p.4). The definitions shown above and many others highlight the five most common roles of journalism, one of these being to act as a mirror reflecting a society to itself and ultimately both the good and the bad (Lamble, 2011, p. 35). Another is to help keep influential and powerful individuals and institutions honest and accountable by exposing them to the sometimes harsh light of public scrutiny (Lamble, 2011, p.35). Journalism also plays the role of an advocate ‘for the good of society by providing a voice…for individuals who have not been able to attain redress or have wrongs righted in other ways’ (Lamble, 2011, p.35). Journalists and news media also have a role to ‘protect and promote democracy and democratic ideals’ (Lamble, 2011, p.35) and, finally, to provide an ‘essential function in telling people in one part of the world what is happening the rest of the world’ (Lamble, 2011, p.35).  Journalism has a ‘code’ of ethics, with some countries having several organisations outlining what these ethics are. In Australia, these ethics are outlined by the Media Alliance’s Code of Ethics, and reflect the values emphasised in the profession of journalism. The code states that the ‘respect for truth and the public’s right to information’ are the ‘fundamental principles of journalism’ (Media Alliance, 2013). Journalists must ‘fulfill their public responsibilities’ (Media Alliance, 2013) with an obligation to reporting with honesty, fairness, independence and respect for other’s rights (Media Alliance, 2013). With these roles of journalism and the ethics within journalism outlined, the differences between journalism and other media is now discussed.

Social media is the most innovative ‘other media’ that differs from journalism. The most common, well-known forms of social media include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, MySpace and Pinterest. Although social media and journalism are both ‘about communication’ (Lipscomb, 2010, Dental Economics), the ethics and values in journalism differentiate it from social media.

Social media enables everyone to have a voice, and share their thoughts and opinions through an array of media…individuals now rely more than ever on the Internet as their exclusive source of information (Lipscomb, 2010, Dental Economics).

As Lamble (2011, p.35) discusses, journalists provide a voice for those who are voiceless, however journalists, generally, provide this voice in an unbiased way. Social media, however, does not always do this. Social media allows for anyone with access to the interest to discuss their opinions on any topic. In recent years, there have been social media phenomenons that have gained a huge global audience but have presented a biased perception on an event or issue. One of those phenomenons, was the 2012 campaign by Invisible Children to raise awareness of child soldiers, specifically those involved in the Lord’s Resistance Army in the Democratic Republic of Congo, under the criminal leadership of Joseph Kony. The large, viral campaign faced criticism for its support of Ugandan military forces that have in the past been corrupt (Trent, 2012). This created much criticism of the organisation and campaign as well as social media in general, for not presenting an unbiased view of the issues facing Uganda and child soldiers. Some negative campaigns were made to encourage people not to support the charity as a protest to their bias, which is one reason why some believe that social media ‘really is an antisocial media’ (Chalmers in Hartcher, 2012). Journalists can also come under such harsh scrutiny for the presentation of issues, as social media did during the Joseph Kony campaign. This demonstrates that journalists should be concerned about journalistic standards in social media as the ethics of journalism are not yet inherent in social media but is currently being treated as such. However, by using the highest journalistic standards on social media, it will eventually be associated with these high standards (Briggs in Higgins, 2013). Therefore journalism differs from social media because of the ethics and standards in journalism that are not yet inherent or forced in social media.

Public relations is another form of ‘other media’ that is different to journalism. The principles of public relations include listening to the customer and conducting public relations as if the whole company depends on it (Huyse, 2006). The public relations profession sometimes collides with journalism as public relations uses media exposure to its advantage. However, the role of public relations does not always coincide with the ethics of journalism. Public relations as a profession exists to serve the client or company and promote their desired message. Falconi writes that public relations professionals ‘elaborate the opinions of her/his client/employer…to the point that [people] may perceive that, yes, all sides to the story have been covered and given an equal amount of relevance’ (2008). With this idea of promoting one person or company in the best possible way, this form of ‘other media’ clearly has different ethics to journalism and ultimately differs in both its purpose as well as its ethics. Experienced journalist and broadcaster, Caroline Jones (Jones for Lamble, 2011, p. 29) has discussed that because of the power of public relations ‘there are barriers now to jump over and…the manipulation of news is a real problem for journalists – manipulation of news by the public relations people’. Jones goes on to elaborate she does not ‘always feel that [she is] getting information from the horse’s mouth’. Therefore, due to the opposing principles and values of the two professions, it can be seen that whilst both professions are considered as part of the media, their principles make them vastly different due to the goals they are trying to achieve.

Talkback radio is also a form of ‘other media’ that differs to journalism. Radio is a form of journalism that has been present for many years. Due to the longevity of radio journalism, many have come to associate a majority of talkback radio programmes with journalism. However, this is not the case. With the introduction of talkback radio, sometimes known as ‘shock jock radio’ due to the controversial ways it discusses topics, journalism and the principles within journalism have become lost on these programmes. Talkback radio involves discussion on events, issues or any topics of interest. Everyone who has access to a phone, or sometimes the internet and an account on a social media site, is able to participate in talkback radio and ultimately voice their opinions. As discussed earlier, principles within journalism allow journalists to aim to give a voice to the voiceless, in an ethical manner. Talk radio differs as anyone can voice an opinion, talk radio hosts do not always serve to keep powerful individuals and companies honest and accountable nor do they have to promote democratic ideals, especially if their audience does not respect these ideals. This ultimately results in ‘a form of entertainment that mimics the forms and practices of journalism but which performs quite different social and political functions’ (Turner, 2009). As the Australian Journalism League has said, although the average Australian isn’t a journalist, they are directly affected by the quality of journalism they encounter (2012). This therefore reflects a need for the distinction between radio journalism and talkback radio in order to preserve the quality and longevity of journalism. Therefore, the ethics of journalism again demonstrate a great difference between journalism and other media, in this case talkback radio which has no governing ethics and is based solely on commercial gain and targeting an audience.

In conclusion, this essay has demonstrated that journalism differs to other forms of media including social media, public relations and talkback radio. The ethics, principles and values of journalism differ greatly to those of social media, public relations and talkback radio, with journalism aiming to be objective and neutral instead of voicing opinions, often in biased ways, and marketing something in the best possible way, emphasising the importance of journalism as a separate entity in the media industry.

References

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