Does journalism need a definition?

With all the changes going on in how people gather, report, and share the news, it’s no wonder the state of journalism is kind of in flux right now. Standards have certainly changed over the years, as have expectations of journalists and journalism. Think about today’s 24-hour news cycle. Back during World War II, that wasn’t even a thought. People had no idea they would one day be able to turn on news at any hour.

Being in this current flux, where information is much more accessible to the general public (not just journalists), it begs the question: does journalism even need a definition anymore?

My personal thoughts—yes… kind of. I think there need to be a few basic, understood principles and tasks specifically defined. But nobody really cares why I think anything.

Despite my opinion, I can absolutely see why some people would say no. They make some valid points! Take for example Jeff Jarvis. He writes that journalism is nothing more than a service whose end is an informed public. I agree with this, and certainly I would say that citizens have more control over their news consumption than ever before.

As Jarvis writes, “Journalism is not content. It is not a noun. It need not be a profession or an industry. It is not the province of a guild. It is not a scarcity to be controlled. It no longer happens in newsrooms. It is no longer confined to narrative form.”

Some of the longstanding “tasks” of a journalist still apply today—like asking questions, verifying facts, and adding background information to a story. Now, people can help do this like they were never able to before. Journalism has turned into a much more collaborative effort from both professional journalists and citizens (or citizen journalists, whatever you prefer).

Citizen journalists have quickly been able to go around professional journalists and get their content used, which parallels Jarvis’ thoughts. Journalism doesn’t happen in newsrooms anymore. It happens in the cities, streets, and neighborhoods where people live. That’s why journalism is constantly changing, and the definition of it has shifted as well.

Everyone is capable of committing acts of journalism, whether it is print, visual, television, or another medium. No matter what side of the definition fence you sit on, it’s unquestionable that journalism now still heavily relies on (and has access to) citizen journalism, and whether we like it or not, citizen journalism is changing journalism from what we knew before.

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