HOME
          
LATEST STORY
What are the boundaries of today’s journalism, and how is the rise of digital changing who defines them?
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Sept. 29, 2009, 10 a.m.

Truth-seeking professionals and the public: Why is journalism unique?

The announcement of The Washington Post’s new social media policy prompted the usual round of sniping between old and new media partisans. (For a good overview of the back and forth, see this post by my Lab colleague Mathew Ingram.)

The battle lines on this debate are fairly well defined — at this point, I don’t see a whole lot of point in rehashing them again here. But the dustup did make me wonder how other “truth-seeking professions” handled their members’ engagement in the public realm, and how and why journalism might be the same or different. Specifically, what intrigued me most was this line from the Post’s social media guide:

All Washington Post journalists relinquish some of the personal privileges of private citizens. Post journalists must recognize that any content associated with them in an online social network is, for practical purposes, the equivalent of what appears beneath their bylines in the newspaper or on our website.

Now, I know for a fact that no professor at my current university, the College of Staten Island/CUNY, would ever expect that their job required them to “relinquish some of the privileges of a private citizen.” And yet I’m in a profession whose ostensible mission is the same as that of journalism: to seek out the truth in a fair (dare we say “objective”) way, and communicate that truth to others. Right? So why the distinction?

Indeed, the entire early history of academic professionalization was structured around issues of “academic freedom,” the ability of professors to think and write what they wanted, in public, without fear of losing their jobs. Many academics, in fact, lament the fact that they aren’t able to engage with the public more. From the little research I’ve done, most of the debate surrounding lawyers’ use of blogs and twitter revolves around questions of commercial vs. non-commercial speech and client disclosure, not public dialog per se. Scientists — certainly truth seekers! — are often encouraged to participate in public debates about scientific discovery. I don’t know much about how churches handle priests and ministers who blog or use Twitter, but I’d be curious to learn more.

So an interesting way to approach the question of journalistic use of Twitter might be to consider: Why am I, a professor of journalism, encouraged to blog, tweet, and engage in public dialog about journalism, but still trusted to speak the “truth,” while journalists are not? Why am I not required to “relinquish some of the personal privileges of private citizens” in order to do my job well? Why am I allowed to get up in front of a classroom everyday and teach youngsters how to “do journalism,” while journalists themselves have to give up some of the personal privileges of private citizens? What is it about journalistic professionalism that demands the monk-like embrace of personal rectitude?

POSTED     Sept. 29, 2009, 10 a.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
What are the boundaries of today’s journalism, and how is the rise of digital changing who defines them?
In a new book, a group of academics look at how the big defining questions of the field — what is journalism? who is a journalist? who decides? — are changing.
Esquire has a cold: How the magazine is mining its archives with the launch of Esquire Classics
“We’re continuing our experiments with seeing what kinds of great archival stories people want to read and what formats seem to be most popular.”
The Atlantic redesigns, trading clutter and density for refinement
It wants to be a “real-time magazine” on the web, connected to its print heritage. But stripping out the visual noise won’t please everyone.
What to read next
2439
tweets
The Economist’s Tom Standage on digital strategy and the limits of a model based on advertising
“The Economist has taken the view that advertising is nice, and we’ll certainly take money where we can get it, but we’re pretty much expecting it to go away.”
579What USA Today Sports learned covering the Final Four on Periscope and Snapchat
These new platforms are optimized for realtime news on phones, but there are lots of questions for news organizations — from what content to share to how to measure their effectiveness.
410Journalists shouldn’t lose their rights in their move to private platforms
The shift to distributed content means concepts like fair use are increasingly in the hands of private companies — like SoundCloud.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Bureau of Investigative Journalism
Creative Commons
Knight Foundation
California Watch
ABC News
Chicago Tribune
The Daily Telegraph
Byliner
Franklin Center
PolitiFact
ReadWrite
Instapaper