From the Editor

JOURNALISM: PROFESSIONALIZATION AND PRECARITY

 

Journalism signifies multiple realities and representations – an ideology, a profession, a craft, a trade, the act of collecting/writing/editing/presenting news or news articles, and a literary genre, among others.  There is not – and never has been – a single unifying activity defined as journalism.  Since the rise of citizen reporters, blogging, wikis, and pro-am newsroom collaborations, both the professional and academic spheres have come to increasingly contest the very definition of what it is to be a journalist and “do” journalism.  Most analyses, however, fail to consider the historical complexity of the processes of professionalization in journalism and its systematic institutionalization as an intellectual and educational endeavour.  This state of affairs is only exacerbated by the lack of a consensual body of knowledge within journalism studies as a field of inquiry, and journalism’s problematic status as a discipline and practice within the critical humanities and the social sciences.

While Mark Deuze notes that “journalism is and has been theorized, researched, studied and criticized world-wide by people coming from a wide variety of disciplines,”[1]  journalism itself is an arguably indefinable, uncertain, multifarious, and extremely intricate object of inquiry.   It is the definition of journalism itself which is rendered problematic, especially where differences from one national-cultural context to another are considered.

In their book Data Trash (1994), Arthur Kroker and Michael A. Weinstein write that in an environment of digital acceleration, more information means less meaning.  Drawing on their work, Franco “Bifo” Berardi points out that within the digital economy, “the faster information circulates, the faster value is accumulated.  But meaning slows down this process, as meaning needs time to be produced and to be elaborated and understood.  So the acceleration of the info-flow implies an elimination of meaning.”  Kroker and Weinstein’s virtual class anticipated the growing precarity of the cognitariat.  Considering the historical role of the fourth estate, this virtualization of journalists should be cause for serious reflection.

Is journalism a profession?  According to Chris Anderson, very little has been written about the problem of journalistic expertise in either the communications or sociological literature.[2]  To further complicate matters, the little that has been written is marked by incongruity regarding concepts such as profession, professionalism and professionalization, and what they mean in journalism.[3]

What is journalism?  How is it theorized?  Is there an object of study that can be called journalism?  Is there an academic field of inquiry that can be called Journalism Studies?  If so, what is its relationship to Communication Studies?  And to the Social Sciences in general?  What can a critique of the political economy of contemporary journalistic practices tell us?

This issue of In Circulation seeks to situate the question of professionalization in the tension between media conglomeration on the one hand, and the increased precarity of journalists and “citizen journalism” on the other.  Our aim is to put forward a critical review of the social advancement of the journalistic ‘profession,’ and the institutionalization of journalism, by reconsidering some of the key aspects which define and shape these processes.

We’re grateful to draw on both the professional and academic spheres as we tackle these questions, beginning with contributions from established journalists in Montreal.  Newspaper and radio reporter Martin Forgues brings us an op-ed about the difficulties – and the grim reality – faced by present-day journalists.  “Journalism isn’t dead,” he writes, “but it’s not very healthy either.”   Drawing on his work at the Association des journalistes indépendants du Québec, as well as his own experience as a freelance journalist, Forgues proposes “a little revolution” to address these problems.

Photojournalist Phil Carpenter offers us an image he captured during the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City in April 2001.  Commonly known as the Quebec City riots, the Summit is remembered as much for the security preparations and demonstrations that surrounded it as for the outcomes of the negotiations themselves.  Carpenter’s cover photograph invites the reader to reflect on the role of technology and citizen journalists in documenting events of this kind the world over, and on the impact these images have had on the public imagination, and on law enforcement policies.

Journalist and researcher Ernest Hoffman conducts an in-depth interview with James Compton, one of Canada’s foremost scholars on issues surrounding journalistic labour in the digital age.  The conversation alternates between scholarly analysis and professional critique, as Compton addresses the glib Californification of news discourse, the rapid rise of unpaid ‘hope labour’, and the past decade’s key failures by Canada’s flagship media outlets.

We then bring you three scholarly articles addressing issues of representation, the ideal of objectivity and professionalism in journalism, and the education – or lack thereof – of professional journalists.  Gabriela Capurro advances an explanation of the role of journalism in the perception of Mexico in Canada, examining how asymmetric international relations are expressed through neo-colonial discourse in the press.  Through a critical discourse analysis of newspaper coverage of the H1N1 flu outbreak, Capurro examines how the power imbalances that characterize the bilateral relationship between Mexico and Canada were reflected in the Globe and Mail and the National Post, demonstrating that these asymmetries were expressed through a neo-colonial discourse that emphasized difference, stereotype, and a perceived sense of superiority over the racialized Other.

Kat Borlongan tests the theory that if we hold fast to the idea that objectivity is an indispensable criterion for newsmaking and that professional journalists are, in fact, neutral bystanders, then it follows that NGOs cannot be considered true newsmakers.  But the author states that we must address two questions before drawing this conclusion: To what extent do media organizations satisfy the objectivity criterion? And, why should we so readily accept that the ideal of objectivity is universally absolute and, consequently, dismiss NGO news?  Borlongan offers an illuminating response to both.

The issue concludes with Paul Fontaine’s article about the educational challenges faced by journalism departments as newsrooms tackle the problem of creating revenue and communicating effectively in an online environment.  Fontaine explores how journalism schools are torn between the conflicting goals of creating a curriculum that meets the industry’s needs, while also trying to equip students to think critically about the profession they hope to practice.

As long as the disputed profession of ‘journalist’ continues to exist, it is imperative that journalism departments in colleges and universities provide their students with the tools to best serve their audiences.  And the most necessary tools are not technical skills, but the students’ ability to think critically about journalism, and their role as journalists.  Journalism Studies does belong in the academy, where the new ideas, critiques, and research, which ultimately inform education and the practice of journalism in the field, are being produced.  The texts presented here are our humble contribution towards this end.

                                                                                                             – Ingrid Bejerman, Ph.D.


[1] Mark Deuze, “What is journalism? Professional identity and ideology of journalists reconsidered,” Journalism 6, no. 4 (November 1, 2005), p. 442.

[2] Christopher Anderson, “Journalism: Expertise, Authority, and Power in Democratic Life” in The Media and Social Theory (ed. by David Hesmondhalgh and Jason Toynbee; London and New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2008), pp. 248-264.

[3] Randal Beam, “Journalism Professionalism as an Organizational-Level Concept,” Journalism Monographs 121 (June 1990), p. 1.