What makes a Professional Identity of a Journalist

There are several views and debates explaining the meaning of the word journalist and its role in society. A journalist could have many professional identities (Surgue,1997). Traditionally, a journalist’s job is to present the facts, diverse views, interpretation of facts as objectively as possible in the form of news. Lucy Dalglish, head of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, suggested that a journalist is “someone who is collecting information with the purpose of disseminating it to the public” (Barton,2002, p11). But a journalist’s role is not being a volunteer or an activist or a blogger but the one is one way or other employed by the news media; an editorial or reportorial employee, who receives or has received income” for newsgathering (Ugland, Erik, Henderson, Jennife, 2007).

The identity of a journalist is formed with understanding and accepting a series of competing and sometimes contradictory values, behaviors, and attitudes but upholds the fourth estate style, within the constraints of the competing corporate values of most newsrooms. (Samuel & Stephen 2000). The other thing that differentiates a journalist from a content writer, or a fiction writer is that they can have an independent opinion of the events s/he covers but not express it in the news story, but the facts have to speak for themselves.  A Journalist must be able to gauge whether the information provided by the source is factual or not (Ragunathan, 2013)

Journalists are “gatekeepers” who sort multiple sources of information, discard much, and let some through onto pages or screens. Journalists organize and explain, the events, news reports to their audience that fits on a newspaper page or television screen. Mere collection of information is not sufficient but understanding the situation and then interpreting the event in their own words is also an important asset of a journalist. Without understanding, a journalist cannot involve his readers or audience in his/her news stories and empathize with their concerns. A journalist can identify possible solutions to these problems, provide examples of such solutions, and tell the audience where to go for further information or how to get involved. But while writing a news story or reporting the journalist cannot impose their opinion but leaves it to the audience.

Journalists are News gatherers and News disseminators, which they sift from the bulk of issues concerning the people and inform their audience. Richard Saul Wurman in his book, Information Anxiety, writes that most news could be divided into three categories: hope, absurdity, and catastrophe. Journalists typically emphasize absurdity and catastrophe.40

  Discussing A Good Journalist.

There is no official answer to that question because journalists are not licensed and do not adopt a specific creed. Starting with a simple list, Dayton Daily News’ newspapers-in-education program stresses about five bedrock principles of journalism: objectivity, accuracy, fairness, moral duty to society (ethics), and watchdog for society Dayton daily News, 2014).

The Society of Professional Journalists recommends standards for journalists emphasizing seeking the truth, comprehensiveness, awareness of privacy rights, loyalty of the journalists towards their audience, care in choosing sources, accuracy and using journalism to help preserve freedom (such as by ensuring public access to government records and activities) (SPJ 2014). Kovach and Rosenstiel (2001)challenged traditional ideas of good journalism, insisting that the purpose of journalism is to provide people with the information they need to be free and self-governing and created a new list including a few familiar and even useful ideas, like fairness and balance as an essential element of the profession.

Combining various suggestions, studies, and research done on the profession of journalism below are the ten pointers that make a good journalist or nine ways that journalists should do:

Reporting Truth & Objectivity: This is the foremost quality of a journalist, a mainstream media journalist. The reporting of incidents or events is based on truth. The journalists are not stenographers, a blogger, content writers whose work is to generate content for the audience. But the news report should be based on facts and not on fake news. Objectivity is the cement of good journalism, the cornerstone of the professional ideology of journalists in liberal democracies’ (Lichtenberg 1991a:216)

 However, Journalists find it to bring objectivity in their reporting (Myrick 2002:52) (Myrick, H.A. (2002) The search for Objectivity in Journalism. USA Today 131 (2690),  due to organisational, commercial and pressures within the society where they operate. Despite the controversy surrounding the concept, objectivity in news is valued by the audience, and it is key to the trustworthy ness and reliability of the media in the public (Siebert et al 1956). Siebert, F, Peterson, T & Schramm, W. (1956) Four Theories of the Press: The Authoritarian, Libertarian, Social Responsibility and Soviet Communist Concepts of What the Press Should Be and Do. University Illois Press, Urbana

Nose for News: What differentiates the journalist from the rest of the professionals is their ability to sift information worthy to report, which is known as ‘nose for news. It is the newsworthiness of events, which journalists acquire with the passage of time and with experience (Ericson et al, 1987). News Organisations receive information of events through press releases, in telegrams, in newspapers, Internet services, WhatsApp, social media etc. All events happening can potentially become news stories but only a few end up in the newspaper, on the Web page or in the news broadcast.  But journalistic practice involves sifting only the newsworthy incidents which are self-evident and self-explaining, due to the journalistic gut feeling (Schultz, 2007).

Verify and Cross-check: News written by journalists is considered as literature in hurry but it should never be compromised in terms of filling the space. The journalist’s work differentiates from a fiction writer, and his/her work is based on facts that need to be checked and cross-checked. Craig Silverman, in his book ‘Regret the Error’ advises aspiring journalists on the legitimacy of verifying the facts, to remove any errors which can result in losing public interest in the media.

Ability to Write or Report News:  After accessing the news sources, getting the facts verified, and having all details does not make a news story, unless everything is packaged, presented in an interesting manner. A journalist should be able to make significant information interesting and relevant to readers.  A good news story is written after fact-checking, verifying the sources, and presenting it in a way that engages the audience. The ability to tell good stories that engage audiences /Readers is an element that makes a journalist different from others good stories are part of what makes journalism different (API 2022). 

Giving voice to the voiceless:  The traditional journalists focus mainly on the news beats assigned by their organizations routinely gathering information from the same official voices–lawmakers, bureaucrats, spokespeople. But a good journalist always figures out within their beat structure, the best stories that are not being told.  The majority of Journalists organizations stress that the guiding principle of this profession is its ability to “ stress that journalists should “give voice to the voiceless” (Poynter) Journalists are the voice of marginalized, religious and ethnic minorities, etc who are unable to represent themselves.  It is an obligation of journalists to provide the perspective of nonhuman, animals in their stories that influence the animals’ and human lives (Freeman, Berkoff, Bexell, 2011)

Being Independent of People They Cover: Independence from the faction they cover means a journalist should be able to report and write the news without getting influenced by the personal experience of being hostage to it. This journalistic independence from faction should be prioritized above all the culture and personal history journalists bring to their job  (Kovach, Rosensteil 2014)

Serve as a Watchdog: Journalist has a special obligation to serve as a watchdog over public affairs and government.  They must inform the public about the goings-on in institutions and society, especially in circumstances where a significant portion of the public would demand changes in response. It also involves seeking to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open and that public records are open to all. (SPJ 2022). A journalist is a guardian who supplies the citizens with the information they must have “to prevent the abuse of power”, and to “warn citizens about those that are doing them harm (Coronel 2008)

Avoid Stereotyping: Stereotypes are collective constructs transmitted and learned during socialization (Legal, Delouvee, 2015). They are based on the representation of the individuals or groups in history, which contribute to the categorical distinctions, negative relationships between the categories of individuals represented, and thus legitimization of the relationship of domination over these categories. Stereotypes contribute to the symbolic social categories of groups and individuals and the essentialization of social relationships in status (Croiset, 2010) The content of media is presented in the most appealing manner, reinforcing the images involving stereotyping of people, gender or minorities. But journalists while presenting their news stories should examine the ways and values that shape their reporting, the unprivileged, and minority groups.

Balance the Stories to Minimise the Harm: The Poynter Institute, a journalism training organization, offered three “guiding principles” for the profession: Seek truth and report it as fully as possible; act independently; and “minimize harm” to subjects of stories (Steele, 1994). While writing a news story or reporting news about a suspect. Consider their right to free trial, before they face legal charges from courts.  Intense media coverage of a high profile like celebrities, demonising the suspecting criminals belonging to Minority groups. These cases offer entertainment more than news, as anchors and members of the panel resort to bashing. This brings conflict between the constitutional rights the right to free trial and the right to freedom of speech an opportunity was taken for granted. Thankfully our courts pass judgments on the basis of fair trials and evidence, and not on popular public opinion or media reporting.

Act independently: A good journalist while working in a field while keeping the public in mind should work without any biases, avoiding conflict of interest real or perceived. Be aware of Sources offering favours or money, gifts, favours, free travel or special treatment, or political mileage in return for access to news.

 Empathy for Sources:  Empathy is considered one of the fundamental resources of emotional and social intelligence (Goleman 1995). It is central to journalistic work routines while covering human trauma and emotions. A journalist without a well-developed empathy might excel in fields like stock market analysis or data journalism but would presumably face difficulties in more translating emotions (Glück, 2016). The journalist acts as a mediator between the news event and the audience. But while reporting the incidents that involve heightened sensitivity who may get affected by news coverage, a journalist should consider the state of the victims or sources.  When dealing with juveniles, victims of sex crimes, and sources or subjects who are inexperienced or unable to give consent, journalists should show compassion.

Ability to work under Organisational Pressure: Journalists are harbingers of freedom of expression and cherish their representatives of the fourth estate ideal of the role of journalism (Henningham, 1993b; Schultz, 1998). But journalists have to fulfil their role within the constraints of commercial realities, which run the organizations they work for. (Schultz, 1998). They cannot work alone nor can sustain themselves without getting paid for their services. A number of studies reveal that journalists’ capabilities are affected by the pressures from organizations they work for, which in turn are commercial entities and are influenced by people in power.

Journalism studies reveal the concerns of excessive commercialization, organizational demands, use of New Communication Technologies are “sapping the confidence of professionals” (White, 2005, p.652) which in turn is constraining the journalist’s ability to fulfill their democratic function in society (de Bruin,2000) But it is the talent of a good journalist to investigate stories, provide a forum of discussion for public criticism and compromise.

Also Read: 10 Famous Journalists in the World

Conclusion

The present article studies journalism in the spectrum of passion and profession. Journalists worldwide carry the ideology of professional journalism values as public service, objectivity, autonomy, immediacy, and ethical conduct that provides validation and meaning for their work (Deuze, 2005). This list at first seemed obvious, even simplistic, and some of the items were only a little more specific than the principles. Nevertheless, these rules did seem subject to testing a journalist’s ability.  The ability to break news, find newsworthy events, and write or report a news story in an interesting manner cannot be acquired overnight. This ability comes to the journalists with experience, training and following the ‘New Cycle.’ There is a number of studies done to find out what makes a good journalist, which usually revolves around the journalist’s ability to strike a balance, gripping the interest of the audience, enduring business pressures, and adhering to the journalist’s values. This paper is an attempt to understand some of the qualities of a journalist, although the list is not comprehensive yet is presented in a lucid manner. In the end, the importance of freedom of journalists to present facts and news is an essential prerequisite for a healthy democracy operating society for its citizen who deserves to enjoy the privileges of a transparent democratic society. 

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I am a Freelance Academic Writer. I have PhD in journalism from Jamia Millia Islamia. I have worked with many media organisations for over 15 years.