Ideology

After the invention of the printing press there was a long period of societal restructuring as the technology facilitated mass communication for the first time. Ideas were shared more widely and faster than ever before and all forms of society were re-organised by this communication revolution; government, education and religious organisations were all disrupted. The internet is as revolutionary a technology as the printing press and we are currently experiencing a period of change on a scale comparable with the scale of the societal reorganisation that accompanied the printing press. How far we are into this period of change and how much change lies ahead of us is hard to gauge, but I believe that when it comes to our news media and journalism we are really only at the beginning of the revolution. Given how young this change is, I don’t think we are at a point where we can understand the mechanics of how journalism is going to look going in the future. As Greg Jericho of Grog’s Gamut told a lecture at The University of Canberra, “it would be like looking at news on the TV in 1959 and predicting that we were going to have 24 hour news channels”.

When we began researching for this project we thought that we might be able to uncover models for journalism; defining what open journalism is and how it will work. But as our research progressed it became apparent that what we were looking at was not a mode of journalism, but a way of conceptualising journalism. The public perception of journalism has long been one of the “journalist as a hero” where the journalist is the ‘fourth estate’ which holds the powerful to account. This is a view that journalists have internalized, forming what Mark Deuze describes as “a consensual occupational ideology”. Deuze lists the concepts, values and beliefs of the journalism ideology as:

  • Public service: journalists provide a public service (as watchdogs or ‘newshounds’, active collectors and disseminators of information);
  • Objectivity: journalists are impartial, neutral, objective, fair and (thus) credible;
  • Autonomy: journalists must be autonomous, free and independent in their work;
  • Immediacy: journalists have a sense of immediacy, actuality and speed (inherent in the concept of ‘news’);
  • Ethics: journalists have a sense of ethics, validity and legitimacy.

Deuze discribes how this ideology is used by journalists to justify the decision they make and to reinforce their authority.

Ideology has also been identified as an instrument in the hands of journalists and editors to naturalize the structure of the news organization or media corporation one works for. Especially when faced with public criticism, journalists apply ideological values to legitimate or self-police the recurring self similar selection and description of events and views in their media.

The use of this ideology by journalists to justify their work is most evident in the journalistic defence of ‘objectivity’. Where being attacked from both sides is seen as a sign that they are doing their job properly. Jay Rosen describes this as the view from nowhere; or creating a sense of false symmetry. A belief that if two sides make competing assertions both sides must be wrong and that the truth must lie somewhere in the middle.

It would be wrong, however, to suggest that just because this is the dominant ideology (or discourse) held by journalists, that it is the only one.

This criticism also comes from within the profession, as, for example, supporters of the public journalism movement blame this ideological way of thinking for the news media’s inability to engage citizens (Merritt, 1995; Rosen, 1999).

This criticism of the dominant journalistic ideology has proven to be an accurate prediction of the crisis that currently faces political journalism in the digital age. Because the dominant journalistic ideology sees only journalists as holding the attributes of impartiality and objectivity, they see their account as the authoritative and final “correct” account. This has prevented many journalists and news institutions from engaging with their readers.

The current journalistic ideology values balance and objectivity; it encourages a sense that because the journalist has spoken to “both sides” in a story that the journalist’s story is the authorative account. As the barriers between journalists and readers are broken down, readers are able to challenge this binary take on objectivity. However with the advent of self publishing on the Internet, the audience have been able to offer alternative narratives, interpretations and even challenged the facts reported by journalists; no longer is a story finished when it is published and there is no longer one single “authoritative” account of any political event.

On blogs, as on Twitter, authors are aware that they are part of a larger dialogue and that a story is never finished; the story is only the beginning. Barthes describes in his essay “From Work to Text” a move away from a static ‘work’,with fixed meaning, to a more fluid ‘text’, which defers meaning. I think something similar is happening to journalism; there is no singular meaning or narrative and no authoritative voice. The current ideology of journalism fails to account for this discussion. The current journalistic discourse sees the journalist as the prescriber of meaning due to their value of objectivity and balance. But the audience is taking the journalist’s words away from them, prescribing their own meaning, discussing, republishing, responding. The audience is creating their own stories whether the journalist wants them to or not.

I think we need to start a new discourse for journalism; a new ideology. Open journalism.

This is not a view that has emerged only in the digital age, the dominant journalist ideology has been challenged for years. Terry Flew and Jason Wilson quoted Daniel Hallin from 1994 in their article Journalism as social networking: The Australian youdecide project and the 2007 federal election.

Hallin argued for new forms of journalism that aimed to be in dialogue with the wider public rather than ‘mediating between political institutions and the mass public’, and a professional practice where ‘the voice and judgment of the journalist … [are] more honestly acknowledged’ (1994: 176).

Flew and Wilson go on to add:

Hallin’s diagnosis of a crisis in journalism, arising from a growing disconnect between journalism and the communities it intends to serve, was developed at precisely the moment of the mass popularization of the internet, but almost a decade before its full implications began to permeate the culture and organization of journalism and news media.

We are already seeing the audience reject the journalist’s authority. The mere existence of self published blogs should be enough to prove that the audience does not accept the final authority of the news profession. Narratives, interpretations, assumptions and assertions are all now challenged in an online discussion. There is no one singular meaning or one single way of distilling meaning from news; there has never been. Through technology the dissent has found an outlet and a voice. The people formally known as the audience are expressing their dissatisfaction.

If the old ideology values public service, objectivity, autonomy and immediacy; what of the new ideology? What are the values and beliefs of open journalism?

I suggest a different set of values, ones that I believe will allow journalists and journalism to thrive in the social age.

  • public engagement: the news doesn’t stop and the story isn’t complete once a report is filed. The journalist should be involved in the ecology of reporting that exists outside of their news publication. Informing and being informed by community discussion;
  • accuracy: objectivity constructs a false sense of symmetry, excludes actors and obscure the truth. Instead journalists should use their skills and judgment in checking facts and pursing the truth (or truths);
  • transparency: building trust through honest dialogue with the community; about their judgments, their doubts and their opinions. Sharing documents and source material for stories so that the community can build on the work of the journalist and ensuring the accuracy of the original report.

This is not a complete list, nor is it a final one. It’s only where I am at the moment, I have my doubts and I am certain that it will change.

Advertisements