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Citizen Journalism 101: What is Journalism?

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Some people have it their heads that there’s something unsavory about the world’s oldest profession. No… I’m not talking about that world’s oldest profession; I’m talking about journalism.

Think I’m lying? Just hold old do you think journalism is? Would you believe it’s older than the written word itself?

Ancient man passed the stories of its history down to future generations by word-of-mouth for centuries. Eventually, we graduated to cave drawings, then the first languages were developed.

Once the written word was developed, however, it was only a matter of time before we were making scrolls and parchments. And, with the advent of books, the art of conveying the stories of “what happened” truly took off.

Journalism, in a nutshell, is the art/craft/profession of telling stories about people, places, and events in order to provide a lasting record of fact for current and future generations. Those who perform journalistic functions are called journalists, and can be found in newspapers, books, magazines, radio and television stations, and websites.

What makes a good journalist

From its earliest days, there was little training required to become a journalist, aside from an ability to convey information factually, and a curiosity for the world around one’s self. These same traits are just as important today, even with the influx of new technology and media forms.

In more recent years, as journalism has become a far more refined profession, there has been an emphasis on highly specialized training, and the supposed need for a college education. That the push for college education in journalism has closely paralleled the downfall of print journalism in the United States probably isn’t mere irony.

Case in point: Benjamin Franklin was publisher of America’s first financially successful newspaper, and he was a staunch advocate for having a newspaper in every home. Through his Pennsylvania Gazette, he postulated much of his societal analysis, which led to his becoming one of the leading intellectuals in colonial America.

He did it without a single day of structured education.

Benjamin apprenticed under his brother, James, who was publisher of the New England Courant newspaper. After sitting in on a meeting of his brother’s Hell-Fire Club, Benjamin began writing satirical letters to the editor under the pseudonym “Silence Dogood” — doing so until he had a falling out with his brother.

Using the skills he picked up from the Courant, Franklin wielded his own paper as a tool for political and philosophical influence. Filled with advertisements, satire, wit, journals of his science experiments and propaganda, the Gazette was a publication that a large amount of the population enjoyed reading.

And that was the legacy of the American newspaper, and the American journalist, for more than 200 years.

Outlets for good journalism

There are many different means of practicing the craft of journalism. While print journalism — in books, magazines, and newspapers — is certainly still the most prolific format/media, it also is widely available over the radio and television airwaves.

Even more recently, it has become prevalent through the Internet.

Let’s be perfectly frank. While print journalism has taken quite a beating with the advent of online news resources, it is far from dead. Many small community newspapers continue to thrive while much larger daily newspapers continue to shed readership and revenue at alarming rates.

They’re both print newspapers. They’re both challenged by online news resources. So, why aren’t both of them struggling equally?

The answer to that question is, quite simply, that small, community newspapers have not lost touch with what makes them great: community. We’ll get into that more in Session 2. But for now, keep in mind what makes good journalism great is an emphasis on a caring relationship for one’s audience over profit motives.

How journalism is committed

There are a lot of books out there that promise to teach how to commit/perform good journalism. The process of journalism is nearly the same for almost every journalist, even those who aren’t working for a newspaper, radio station, television station, newspaper office.

Step One: Define the topic, and narrow it down to a fine focus.

Step Two: Pre-report on the topic by doing your own research.

Step Three: Interview your sources, using questions that begin with the following words:

Who?

What?

Where?

When?

Why?

How?

Step Four: Gather your information and begin crafting your first draft of the story. Present to the editor for final review.

Step five: Make final corrections to the article and submit it for final approval by the editor.

Summary

So, in summary, I would like you to take from this class that journalism is something you can do, even without a college degree. Benjamin Franklin, one of nation’s Founding Fathers, is a perfect example of this.

There are many outlets for journalism, including print—newspapers, magazines, and books—radio, Internet, and television. But, all of them can benefit from good, solid journalism that emphasizes community over profits.

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Written by bfranklinjournalism

February 16, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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