What Is Journalism?
A quick look at how journalism started and where it has evolved. Journalism changes overtime to accommodate different technology and ways of getting information to the public. It's the job of journalism schools and students to include this in their education.
According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, journalism is "… the collection, preparation, and distribution of news and related commentary and feature materials through such media as pamphlets, newsletters, newspapers, magazines, radio, motion pictures, television, books, blogs, webcasts, podcasts, and e-mail."
Journalism is continually evolving to meet the needs of its audience. The list of media the Encyclopaedia Brittannica described above has changed over the years, but would have once started and ended with "newspaper."
At journalism schools across the country, international students will begin their training with a brief history to hopefully answer the question of "what is journalism?"
In the US, journalism's history begins in 1690 with the very first American newspaper. The plan was to publish monthly, but outrage by the government forced Publick Occurrences to close down after its first 3-page issue.
Over the course of the next hundred years, two major developments became the catalyst for journalism in the US: the construction of the first printing press in America and the passage of the First Amendment, which granted Americans freedom of speech and of the press.
Eventually, more and more newspapers appeared, each with the goal of reaching a large audience. However, impartial and neutral reporting wouldn't exist until the 20th century. Publishers were quick to back certain political views and flaunt them in their papers.
By 1833, the first newspaper was sold for a remarkably cheap penny. Called the Penny Press, this trend in journalism meant that the working class were finally able to afford to purchase newspapers. Creating an even larger audience for journalism, the Penny Press brought mass popularity to the newspaper industry.
Toward the end of the century, the newspaper industry struggled less with gaining mass readership as a whole, than with gaining readers for their own papers. This started a massive circulation war fueled by Joseph Pulitzer, who owned the New York World, and William Randolph Hearst, owner of the New York Journal. It became known as yellow journalism because both men printed eye-catching and sensational news to sell as many papers as possible.
Note: While they gained notoriety because of yellow journalism, both men also had an important impact on the industry. Hearst purchased more and more newspapers, which grew into a media conglomerate that still exists today. Pulitzer created the Pulitzer Prize, which becamse the most prestigious and coveted award in journalism.
The departure from this era was muckraking, when journalists investigated wrong-doing in the early 1900's. Primarily writing for magazines, but also for newspapers, journalists such as Nellie Bly and Upton Sinclair uncovered abuse of patients in mental hospitals and discovered malpractice in the meatpacking industry.
The 1900's also gave rise to radio, which increased in popularity during the first half of the century due to its mix of news, music, and entertainment programs. President Franklin D. Roosevelt notably used radio to his advantage with his Fireside Chats—a series of informal discussions with the public regarding his progress and hopes for the country.
Finally, the latter half of the 1900s saw television and then the Internet surpass other media as the main source of news for the American public. While newspapers, radio, and magazines are still around, they have certainly declined in popularity with the rapid growth of free and more readily accessible media.
What Is Journalism Today?
The answer to "What is Journalism?" in 1690 was easy: a newspaper. With the rise of technology, the answer today is more nuanced. It's still the research and dissemination of news to the public. But you can't just print it in a newspaper and call it a day. There are so many ways that news can be disseminated that it can be overwhelming for international students to choose which branch of journalism to study. It is also difficult for journalism schools to develop curricula that cover it all.
Forms of Journalism
News can be shared through newspapers, magazines, radio, television, film, photography and online—all of which are studied at journalism schools across the country.
- Hard-Hitting News
- International students interested in reporting will learn to report the day's or week's events. This is news that gets straight to the point, listing the "what", "when", "who", and "where" of important current events. Eventually, students may become beat reporters or staff writers for newspaper, radio, television or online media enterprises. These businesses produce daily publications and broadcasts, which require journalists to meet tight deadlines while ensuring that the facts in every story are accurate.
- Analyzing and Explaining the News
- News analysis accounts for the "how" and the "why." Students interested in analyzing important news and explaining how it happened might enjoy writing features or doing some investigative or narrative reporting. Investigative journalists enjoy a longer span of time to investigate, edit, and craft their stories, which can be found in newspapers, television, radio, magazines, and on the Internet.
- Photojournalism and documentaries are for journalists who see the value of an image or series of images over the written or spoken word. These are often used in conjunction with other forms of journalism.
- While the facts still need to be correct, opinionated journalism (also known as "editorials) permit journalists to express opinions. However, they must still be open to criticism from readers who hold different opinions.
- Sensational journalism is, essentially, the modern day form of yellow journalism. For journalists interested in jaw-dropping news of scandal, outrage, and celebrities, tabloids and entertainment television be the places to work.
- Citizen Journalism
- With all the technology that exists today, it's easy for any person (whether trained or not in the art of journalism) to post a tweet to twitter, a comment on Facebook, or write a blog that disseminates the "news"; the problem is that the story may not be factual, or adhere to an ethical code, but it can still be considered news. Trained journalists are not citizen journalists, but it's important to note how far technology has come that any person can get their point published in some form.