According to Wikipedia, journalism is ‘the practice of investigation and reporting of events, issues and trends to a broad audience in a timely fashion’. The definition describes a behaviour, a process, a method. It matters not who undertakes this behaviour.
The act of engaging in journalism occurs regardless of whether individual journalists are paid to perform journalism or do it on an unpaid voluntary basis. It happens regardless of whether they are employed by corporations or organisations or work for themselves. It happens regardless of whether they have undertaken any formally recognised education or training.
In many cases, judging by the dross produced by Fairfax and News Ltd, tertiary education in journalism fails to produce professional and ethical journalists. The commercial imperative is the only important thing to commercial news companies, so if ethics gets in the way of profit it is forgotten.
Who hacked the phone of a dead girl in the UK? Professional journalists. Who routinely plagiarises social media content? Professional journalists. It’s as common in the UK as it is in Australia. News is a consistent thief whatever continent you’re on. Need I go on? Having a qualification is no measure of professionalism.
I’ve argued before that when ‘professional’ journalists employed by media corporations break the law that they stall, delay, prevaricate, lie and make excuses if they get caught. Alice Taylor similarly explains that ‘they infringe, they wriggle, they use dirty tactics, and then they settle for as little as they can get away with‘.
The current situation where state law defends the positions of media corporations against the best interests of citizens cannot be sustained. As Rebecca J. Rosen argues, ‘The age of the institutional media today looks like a flash in the pan, an aberration from the more-normal mode of citizen publishing. It’s not something we should seek to preserve artificially through laws.‘
But I digress. In my recent story about being banned from a cafe that does not exist, I published a photo sent to me by a reader. When I received it I emailed back and asked if I could publish it, and if she wanted a credit or not. When I didn’t get a response in a few hours I went ahead and published the photo in the post citing fair dealings, which I am legally entitled to do.
Six days later the photographer finally replied to me and complained that I had not waited for her response before publishing the photo. I explained that the timeliness of the story was crucial and I was allowed by law to publish it: ‘I have no wish to argue with you, but you’re being naive. You sent content to a journalist. What did you think was going to happen?’
She replied: ‘I didn’t realise I was sending the photo to a journalist, just a blogger.’ Sigh. How many times do I have to explain how I publish Fitzroyalty according to professional and ethical standards of journalism? Your ignorance about the nature of contemporary online journalism is not my problem…