Journalism is a process of collecting, analysing and disseminating information in the public interest. This means it is a profession with a strong element of social responsibility. That is why journalists are required to follow the highest ethical standards – accuracy, balance, impartiality and truthfulness, independent of any commercial or political interests.
If you ask a search engine the question ‘What is journalism?,’ you may get a number of different answers, but they are all likely to agree on one thing – that it involves collecting, processing and disseminating information in the public interest. This is why it is a profession with a strong sense of social responsibility towards the general public, good governance and democracy.
It aims to allow its audience to understand the world around them, enabling readers and viewers to make well informed decisions about their lives, their communities, their governments and the way their policies shape them. Besides that, there is also a desire to entertain, but that is still secondary.
The role of journalism, then, is to reflect reality as clearly and accurately as possible. By supporting public debate, exploring relevant issues of public interest and holding decision makers accountable, it helps sustain public trust and engagement in the institutions that govern their lives.
And who is a journalist? As explained by Aidan White, former director of the Ethical Journalism Network, this was considerably easier to say in the past than today – in the era of social media and the web 2.0.
Previously, the word ‘journalist’ would have described a person working in the field in a professional capacity – usually employed by a particular media house, with a university degree in this field or an accredited member of a journalistic organization. This is not how it works today.
Media outlets and journalists lost their former publishing monopoly, and thanks to the web 2.0 there are a great number of authors and platforms which do not fit within this framework – alternative news portals, blogs, social media posts and YouTube videos, to name a few.
Their contributors are also committing acts of journalism, regardless of their professional occupation, qualifications or organizational affiliation. In order to include these members of the media world into the definitions of journalist and journalism, the same ethical standards, such as accuracy, balance, impartiality, truthfulness, independence of commercial and/or political interests, should insisted upon.