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The Problem with Professionalism.

February 12, 2010

DISCLAIMER: the following post is for a masters class on contemporary media issues.

There are times when job descriptions come in handy.

For instance, it’s useful to know exactly how to balance the books, should you be in charge of a company account. There’s only one way to do this, and really, if you don’t do it right or try to do it a new way, you’re probably going to mess something up. It might also be helpful to know exactly how to operate the tram should you find yourself working for the DC Metro or when the right time is to collect the data from your scientific experiement, should you find yourself, say, working with fruit flies or some other living organism. These jobs and many, many others are grounded in their professional rigors, in standards and tasks that are set for specific reasons for specific outcomes. Professionalism in adhering and complying with these standards is essential for getting the job done, and getting it done right. There is no room for creativity.

Journalism has been lumped into this “professional” category, in my opinion, to the detriment of the trade. The industry has set standards and rules, ones that guide what the journalists do and what they cover. These guidelines are helpful, no doubt about it. They get the news produced in a consistent and timely manner, each and every day. This professionalism provides the rule book for journalists to live by, but is it limiting their rights and abilities? Are we, as consumers of the news, missing out on essential information because of the so-called professional principles? Are the press the free agents we believe them to be? Or is corporate ownership getting in the way?

Journalists should have to adhere to certain principles, yes. They should be held to high moral standards, to report the truth, the whole truth, and the hidden truths that the average citizen might not see or have access to. They should try to remain unbiased, but the fact of the matter is, by choosing to report one story over another has inherent bias. As a fellow classmate, Steve Earley, argued today, the press are often reporting the controversial issues because they are talking about what has not reached the mainstream current as of yet. It is, essentially, the job the press to bring these underground rumbles up into the light. But is this happening today? Are the media questioning the validity of their sources, are they deeply invested in the public good? If Watergate happened today, would we know about it? What don’t we know, because of the lack of investigation?

The problem with professionalism, then, it that is limiting and constraining.  It does not allow the right questions to be asked, which leads to a lack of reporting. Professionalism, as necessary as it may be, must be applied in combination with creativity and freedom to a explore. Closing a journalist inside of a box is never a good thing.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. gerikfurlan permalink
    February 14, 2010 9:33 am

    Excellent development of the ‘professionalism’ argument from the reading. Class drifted toward focusing on the models to fix it and away from this key turning point in the history of journalism. It kinda all went down hill after journalism went out of the hands of the many (albeit baised and partisan) and into the hands of the few with the new mantra of professionalism.

  2. cathyfreeman permalink
    February 14, 2010 7:08 pm

    Great points. The movement towards “professionalism” was definitely a key point in the demise of journalism, but I don’t think it’s necessarily the root of the problem. I think the quality of journalism began to fall when “professionalism” became too formulaic. At some point, getting a quote from every perspective opinion became more important to a story than investigating the underlying “behind the scenes” issues, and that’s where we’re going to have to go back to to find our solution.

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