Journalism: Less job, more action

Might as well change my name to Benedict Arnold with that title, some in my field would say.

But, it’s time to face the facts and acknowledge journalism as more an action than a job. for two reasons. First, to deal with reality. Second, to also realize, finally, that this isn’t a bad thing at all, even for professional journalists.

This is, in fact, my answer to the everlasting “journalists vs. bloggers” debate, also commonly framed as “working in the century-old newsroom floor vs. working out of your parents’ basement” argument.

(Quick sidetrack: Can we ditch the “parents’ basement” putdown? I’m sure there’s a few bloggers making enough to afford their own basements to work in. And my college newspaper was in a basement.)

For too long, we’ve considered “journalist” to be a very specific job. You have to work in a certain place, in a certain way, and have the intent to be a journalist in order to commit an act of journalism.

I totally disagree.

Flashback to journalism school. You’re taught the Five W’s and H: who, what, where, when, why and how. Five of these constitute reporting. But then there’s the sixth: Why.

To me, answer the question of “why” is what separates journalism from reporting. Why is the red meat, or extra-firm tofu for you vegans out there. Defining Why is the response to eternal question of “So what?” that permeates a society often too busy for its own good. Discovering Why takes skill and enterprise.

So quite frankly, anybody who answers and passes along to another the question of why, with details and evidence to back it up, is committing an act of journalism.

And that can be done by anybody. People can answer Why without even intending to do so. Accidental journalism can exist.

Does this dismiss those who have made committing acts of journalism their livelihood? Like, well, me? I don’t think so. Two reasons for that.

First, just because it’s possible for anybody to commit an act of journalism doesn’t mean everybody wants to. I could go out and win the California Lottery. But I’m not necessarily interested in buying the ticket I would need to win the jackpot. Some people like playing the lottery, others just like to watch the drawing. Some people want to be journalists, other just want to read, hear and watch journalists’ work. The latter still need the former.

Second, while accidental journalism is possible, the majority of journalism will still be done intentionally. Specific skills further increase the ability to commit an act of journalism. So those who best acquire those skills can still perform journalism as a living.

So, for those pros still bristling at amateurs, even the ones blustering about how the pros are going to go down in flames: Quite sweating it. Yeah, things aren’t the same as they were 20 years ago. The market will be tougher. Some types of thinking that once existed won’t be able to survive anymore.

But it won’t cease to exist.

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