The main purpose of this Module is to describe the main characteristics of journalism, explain the impact of journalistic values and define the effects of new journalism practices on society.
The secondary aim is to guide trainers who want to use the content of this Module to train their trainees.
With these aims, information about journalism and its effects are presented along with guidelines about how to teach the subject.
Trainees who successfully complete this Module will be able to:
In addition, trainers who successfully complete this Module will have an understanding of the definition and functions of journalism, as well as the new practices that have emerged with the changing media environment.
This Module consists of the following parts:
Main objectives of the Module, description of the content and the learning outcomes are explained in the Module Description part. Guidelines for Trainees includes instructions and suggestions for trainees. Guidelines for Trainers leads trainers through different phases of the training and provides tips which could be useful while teaching the subject. Content includes all study materials and the content related exercises. Quiz includes true/false questions for trainees to test their progress. Resources have two components: references and recommended sources for further reading and study. References is the list of sources cited in the content part. Recommended resources consist of a list of supplemental sources and videos which are highly recommended to read and watch for learning more on the topic.
Trainees are expected to read the text, watch the recommended video and do the exercises. They can consult suggested resources for further information. After completing the study of the content trainees are strongly suggested to take the quiz to evaluate their progress. They can revise the study material if needed.
Guidelines for trainers includes suggestions and tips for trainers about how to use the content of this Module to train people on the concept of journalism, new journalism practices and its effects on people.
Preparing a presentation (PowerPoint/Prezi/Canva) which is enriched with visual materials (images and video clips) and research based factual information is strongly suggested. Moreover, it is suggested to choose country-specific reading lists for trainees to better understand the concepts.
A short quiz (3 to 5 questions) in Kahoot or questions with Mentimeter can be used at the beginning for engaging participants in the topic. It can be used as a motivation tool as well as a tool to check trainees’ existing knowledge about the subject. Some examples for questions could be: What is the role of a journalist in a society? Which ones of the following can be listed as news values?
Various teaching methods can be used in combination during the training. Such as:
An effective way of involving participants and setting common expectations about what they will learn is to ask a few preliminary questions on the subject. This can be done through group work by asking trainees to discuss and collect ideas, but also individually by asking each participant to write their ideas on sticky notes.
The activity can be conducted as follows:
The objective of the lesson should be made clear (which is to describe the main characteristics of journalism, explain the impact of journalistic values and define the effects of new journalism practices on society). Following the warm-up questions it will be easier to clarify the objectives.
While presenting the content make sure to interact with the trainees and encourage them for active participation.
Make a short summary of the lesson and ask a couple of questions which help underlie the most important messages you would like to give. Following questions can help:
Journalism can be defined as “the practice of gathering, recording, verifying, and reporting on information of public importance”. The idea of “objectivity” is the basic distinctive property of journalistic practices when compared to other non-fiction writing. Journalists are expected;
Opinions can also be included in the journalism practices, but journalists must be conscious and careful of keeping subjectivity limited to pieces such as, editorials, columns or other opinion-based content (Purdue University, n.d.).
Especially in the digital age, the ways of consuming all types of information including news have changed dramatically. This also affected journalism practices in terms of collecting information to produce news and disseminating it, while their basic duties have been consistent. Today’s journalists not only write traditional news texts but perform different roles such as, producing podcasts or YouTube videos, film documentaries, help run 24-hour broadcasts (via TV or other social media channels), to help us keep up with the news especially via the Internet. These efforts help the public learn what is happening in the world so they may make informed decisions (Purdue University, n.d.).
“The central purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with accurate and reliable information they need to function in a free society.” (Potter, 2006, p. 3)
Informed citizens are the backbone of democracies. People need information in order to govern themselves. Journalists and the news media is a primary source for that. To assure that journalists are able to do their job as desired, many countries have established legal protections for a free press (Potter, 2006, p. 2).
Journalists in a free society also have this common responsibility: To keep citizens informed. While doing this, journalists must provide accurate information, report that information fairly, completely, independently from outside influences and be totally unbiased in gathering information and presenting the news (Potter, 2006, p. 2; Quandt & Singer, 2009, p. 140).
“Journalists are not mere transmission belts for their own viewpoints or for information provided by others. They do original reporting, they do not confuse fact with opinion or rumour, and they make sound editorial decisions. A principal responsibility of journalism ... is ‘applying judgement to information’.”(Potter, 2006, p. 9)
Today, anyone with a device connected to the Internet is able to disseminate any information with a blog, web site or social media and can reach as wide an audience as the largest news centres. But these sources of news are not necessarily reliable. Huge amount of information makes the “truth” fuzzy for most people. Therefore, the role of the journalists has become more important than ever for a democratic society. The nature of the profession forces the journalist to;
As being an information-dependent profession, journalists owe their primary allegiance to the public (Potter, 2006, p. 2). Public enlightenment is the journalist’s duty and this is extremely important for justice and the foundation of democracy (Society of Professional Journalists, 2014). Journalism ethics aims to determine how existing norms apply to the main ethical issues of the day (Ward, 2009, p. 296).
Some ethical codes for journalism have been exhibited via various sources to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. According to the Society of Professional Journalists these can be compiled in four basic titles (Society of Professional Journalists, 2014):
“In recent years, we have seen a collapse of the notion that politically relevant facts can be discerned by news professionals, leaving voters uncertain about whether the messages communicated by those professionals can be trusted. ... Social media has allowed individuals and small organisations to disseminate messages (perhaps accurate, perhaps false) directly to voters, unmediated by major news organisations. ...All this means is that voters are forced to identify news sources they trust. And because different news sources are disseminating different messages about the same matters, voters will now end up with more disparate views of reality than was the case decades ago.” Jon Krosnick(Source: Feder, 2020)
The “truth” is one of the main issues in journalism. But, especially in the last decade, the discussions on the concept of “truth” have disturbingly increased. In fact, it is seen that even the citizens of civilised societies cannot agree on even some basic facts. At this point, it is better to understand the definition of “journalistic” truth. Like scientists, journalists seek the truth that explains the world and helps people to function in life. The goal of a journalist is to find the best obtainable version of the truth on a given day. In order to do that, journalists have to collect as much evidence as possible. Here, the “possible” is a big qualifier since the journalists work with strict deadlines. They have to gather the evidence for the truth within a short time limit. Therefore, journalists and news consumers should always be asking this question: “Is there more relevant evidence that can be practically collected?” (Hornik, Anzalone & Spikes, 2018, p. 32-33)
It should be considered by the news consumers that the story could change in time. In such cases like natural disasters, the story must be followed in order to grasp the latest information such as the death toll or effectiveness of the policy response. These details will probably be revised in time not because a reporter got the facts wrong, but rather because the story develops over time and new facts emerge. As a news consumer, if a person wants to know the truth, s/he should be an active member of the news audience by vigorously following the issues and topics over time and should demand further investigation of the stories from the news media (Hornik, Anzalone & Spikes, 2018, p. 35)
Can news be defined as “a piece of information that you didn’t know about before”? Does it make it “newsworthy”, just because you didn’t know something before, or just because something is new? While thinking about the definition of news, you may find yourself asking such questions about making that piece of information interesting or newsworthy: Is this information about someone you know or about your neighbourhood? Does it impact your life directly? Does it change anything (for example your opinions or decisions)? Does it have any sort of conflicts? Do you consider it weird or bizarre? As a person who consumes news you may ask several questions if you have to tag a piece of information as news. Just like you, journalists ask similar questions in order to decide what is newsworthy, which are called “news values” (Gillman, 2015, p. 280).
News values are not only used to make decisions about the inclusion and exclusion of a piece of information or a material but also how it will be covered, who draws up the news story, and how it will appear in a news platform (such as in a newspaper or on a web page). Moreover, the basic criteria which include who, what, where, when, why and how are taken into account by journalists and other media specialists while assessing news values.
Although the news values sometimes can be labelled as a “slippery concept”, this has not prevented journalists from following them or researchers from attempting to create several taxonomies to clarify the concept (O’Neill & Harcup, 2009, p. 162-163; Gillman, 2015, p. 286). These values can be listed differently in several sources but the essence is as below (Potter, 2006, p. 5; Gillman, 2015, p. 282-283):
News values can be thought of as a framework for analysing obtained information, in order to decide its newsworthiness. Especially when considering the age we are living in, where we are bombarded with information, news consumers should adopt these criteria to analyse, understand and decide on the type of information and its trustworthiness, rather than making decisions or understanding the world based on personal experiences. One should bear in mind that, “news” is a product of a series of rational judgements made by journalists or other media experts and people should consume this type of information making similar judgements, especially in this post-truth era (Gillman, 2015, p. 286).
News can be originated from several places but journalists generally find news in one of the following environments (Potter, 2006, p. 7):
Today, news is a part of a networked public sphere, in other words, an ecosystem of interconnected platforms that expand the range of participatory discourse. Journalistic outputs that were once exclusive, such as news, opinions, data, information, headlines, updates and conversation are now everywhere in today's communication ecosystem (Perloff, 2020, p. 25-26). As a result of digitalisation;
The invention of the telegraph almost 150 years ago, has changed the transmission of information. The technology brings the “inverted pyramid” writing/reporting technique
where the most important information at the beginning of the story, followed by less important information, and so on to the end, which enables the story to be cut from the bottom in order to fit the space available. This is formulated with “who, what, where, when, why and how” format especially in printed news (usually “what” and “who” take precedence) which helps placing information in a hierarchy and fit the content within the boundaries of a limited page layout. Although some sources have claimed that this writing style has petered out with the emergence of the “soft news” disseminated via the internet based new media, it seems that it will continue to be used as it allows to convey information in a compact way (Tynan, 2015, p. 337; Goc, 2015a, p. 33; Scanlan, 2003).
“The seriousness of (the Covid-19 pandemic) crisis has reinforced the need for reliable, accurate journalism that can inform and educate populations, but it has also reminded us how open we have become to conspiracies and misinformation. Journalists no longer control access to information, while greater reliance on social media and other platforms give people access to a wider range of sources and ‘alternative facts’, some of which are at odds with official advice, misleading, or simply false” (Newman, 2020, p. 10)
The term digital media or new media is used to define mobile technologies (such as mobile phones) and internet based media (such as social networking sites, online gaming platforms, online broadcasting and news platforms and applications etc.). These platforms usually encourage its users to be socially engaged, establishing some sort of audience networks. These audience networks profoundly challenge the old broadcasting models and the way that we communicate (for example Facebook had almost 1.9 billion daily active users during the second quarter of 2021 (Statista Research Department, 2021). Moreover, digital media pushes people to consume all types of content extremely fast. Since these platforms are promoting a culture, based upon interactivity and virtuality it can be said that they also have an effect as altering societies (Bainbridge, Beasley & Tynan, 2015, p. 67-69).
News consuming habits of the world have been changing drastically since the mass-usage of the Internet. Conventional news media, such as printed newspapers, TV broadcasting, have begun to leave their place to social media and other online platforms, especially when compared to last decade (Newman, 2021, p. 10). This means, waiting for news to appear in a newspaper in the morning or to air in a regular news bulletin of a TV channel is no longer acceptable to most people (Bainbridge, Beasley & Tynan, 2015, p. 67-69).
This digital environment has transformed the characteristics of news as follows (Perloff, 2020, p. 22; Bainbridge, Beasley & Tynan, 2015, p. 68-69):
In today’s digital world, journalists still need to collect information and create news stories which have to be factual, accurate, informative, fair and engaging. Thanks to the internet, new opportunities to report, interpret, share and update the news are available for the journalists. Thus, journalism has become a 24/7 global activity where there is no need to be restricted by the boundaries of a physical office or a newsroom. Moreover, in today’s digital habitat, news consumers are demanding to get news from various platforms such as Fabeook or Twitter. These new types of communities (referred to as “virtual crowd”) demand interactivity (they want to be engaged with the news from its production to transmission), need information in real time without any geographical limitations and mostly in visual or audio-visual forms (Bainbridge, Beasley & Tynan, 2015, p. 91; Goc & Tynan, 2015, p. 392; Kochler, 2017, p. 11). Journalists are not only expected to create accurate news content in shorter time frames than in the past but also they need to stay actively engaged with the audience from various platforms. This has resulted in the following concepts;
The new power of the news consumer which makes them citizen journalists brings various opportunities and advantages to the public. For example, in a war zone these volunteer masses of people can inform the world right in the center of the bombs in real-time. These citizen journalists work generally with no wages and voluntarily, and can produce news content mostly online in various forms from well-produced podcasts or YouTube channels to editorial comments on blogs or Twitter on newsworthy topics. But new technologies always escalate the conflict between speed and accuracy which are the core of traditional journalism practices. The power of information can cause great harm to people and societies if misused. Therefore news consumers need to approach these new types of journalism activities by thinking more critically and have to think twice before spreading information to others (Goc, 2015b, p. 489; Hornik, Anzalone & Spikes, 2018, p. 160-161). On the other hand, for example citizen journalists can also help news media to correct their errors by contributing news coverage. For example in Egypt, the rapid spread of unverified information on the internet made citizen reporters a sort of inspection mechanism who could identify inaccuracies or bias in the news content (Chan, 2014, p. 116). In that sense, if citizen journalists can interiorise and adopt the basic values of journalism, biassed news can be prevented to some extent and this effort of spreading factual information can also be an important contribution to democracy.
By the proliferation of digitalisation, larger amounts of information more than ever before have become produced, stored and accessed, which formed what is called the “big data”. This brings new analysis opportunities for a lot of professions including journalists, to make solid decisions, to build rational policies and so on. Today, journalists are able to find evidence and to present unseen facts or insights about a topic by working with enormous volumes of data in order to understand how the results may affect the public (e.g. Wikileaks). By this way, they investigate stories that are buried in the internet that might not otherwise have been revealed. This of course requires new journalistic skills and specialisation. These professionals are generally called “data journalists” (a.k.a. computer-assisted reporting) (Bainbridge, Beasley & Tynan, 2015, p. 69, 91).
The latest information revolution has transformed the world, by making it possible to publish any information with a computer or smartphone. People are bombarded with huge amounts of information. These could not only be about advances in health, education or social engagement, which mostly make the world a better place, but also much of that information can be misleading (such as anti-vaccination movements) which can cause massive harm to the public. Thus, the “information age” confronts us with the following significant challenges that force us to reconsider the ways we consume and share information (Hornik, Anzalone & Spikes, 2018, p. 11-12):
“People are more willing to share an article than read it... This is typical of modern information consumption. People form an opinion based on a summary, or a summary of summaries, without making the effort to go deeper.” (Dewey, 2016)
Because any kind of information including news is no longer the monopoly of any profession, people found themselves alone with the information flood and some natural cognitive biases became a part of the daily information consumption routines (See Module 3 for more details). Social media has taken the lead as a news source and the news has also been parsed in social media. This means, people do not come across one story from a specific news source but rather mixed in with content from many other sources. This is quite different from watching a newscast or reading a newspaper, where all the content comes from the same source (American Press Institute, 2016, p. 20). The evolution of the news consumer to news producer has increased the spread of misinformation (Hornik, Anzalone & Spikes, 2018, p. 155). Especially during a crisis, mostly out of a natural survival instinct, people tend to spread any kind of information very quickly in order to protect themselves and their loved ones. According to a study, 59 percent of links are shared without reading on social media. It also revealed that this “share even without clicking it” sort of action is genuinely important in determining what news gets circulated and what just fades off the public radar. This means, this sharing habit is actually sculpting communities with shared political and cultural agendas, without a solid background (Dewey, 2016). In a related research, the motivations of people for sharing information were investigated and the following motives were revealed (Stearns, 2016):
News can also be overwhelming since the bad news dissemination can generally be faster than the good ones (Bushman, Williams & Wittenberg-Moerman, 2013, p. 29). In such an era where people are confronted with bad news a lot, some psychological impacts are inevitable such as a burgeoning sense of helplessness, seeing the world a darker place, being more pessimistic about possibilities etc. In such a psychology, people’s decision-making process can be affected (Singal, 2014) and this could impact various sizes of milestones in life including a result of an election to be a part of an anti-vaccination movement. A growing number of people are stating that they avoid the news to overcome this (Dahl & Riesman, 2014). One of the studies revealed that almost one third (32%) of people from all over the world, deliberately avoid the news (Newman, 2019, p. 26). According to some reports, they avoid news because they find it too sad or stressful, and because they don’t trust it (Coddington & Lewis, 2020).
To overcome these challenges, people must approach information more analytically with the following principles which should be applied to all sorts of news media platforms in everyday life (Hornik, Anzalone & Spikes, 2018, p. 11, 161; Singal, 2014):
These highlights will not only help journalists to be accountable to the public which they serve and inform (Hornik, Anzalone & Spikes, 2018, p. 11) but also help the public to raise awareness about the news environment and to gain new skills in order to survive in this post-truth era.
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