Journalism as the New Knowledge Profession

“I think that this new situation makes professional journalism more important than ever. All citizen journalists’ activities, bloggers, activists, or social media fans forwarding links to news sites cannot replace the two core functions that professional journalism brings to society”.

journalism as knowledge professionCan we ensure there is a place for professional journalism today? Well, Wolfgang Donsbach suggests that we could start with raising the level of journalism education.

In order to make journalism a knowledge profession we could ask that all journalists have:

  1. A keen awareness of relevant history and current affairs, as well as analytical thinking,
  2. Expertise in the specific subjects about which he or she reports,
  3. Scientifically based knowledge about the communication process
  4. Mastered journalistic skills
  5. A conduct within the norms of professional ethics.

In  the article “Journalism as the new knowledge profession and consequences for journalism education“, Donsbach examines what a professional journalist look like.

How to Know What is Newsworthy?

The first criteria – having keen awareness of history and politics –  is a given and most schools of journalism and university programmes will demand this of their students.

Having an expertise in the subject of reporting is not a prerequisite in most newsrooms. Some journalists will even take pride in not knowing and therefore being able to ask “stupid questions” in order to explain a difficult topic to a general audience.

However, Donsbach argues, without this knowledge journalists will struggle to apply the criteria of newsworthiness. Without prior expert knowledge one doctor’s incredible view on cancer research might make the front page instead of being discarded.

The deep knowledge can be gained by a variety of methods, e.g. a dual university degree and more interdisciplinary courses on top of the common journalism courses. I would add that without the deep knowledge the journalist will be in fear of losing both legitimacy and creditability both with sources and the audience.

How to Improve Reporting

Of course, journalists need to know the academic methods in order to asses science critically and in addition. Indeed, some knowledge of communication processes might improve reporting:

“If journalists know more about audience research, they be able to present their messages in a way that might maximize not only attention to news but also, if employed in a responsible way, its cognitive processing by the audience. If they know about how public issues can be dealt with in social networks.”

When adapting to new technology and the increase of platforms, Donsbach argues that it doesn’t make sense to teach navigating the actual platforms or programmes. These change all the time. Instead, follow the example of the medical schools that emphasise learning about new techniques and not the actual techniques themselves.

What Do Employers Want?

Most American journalism educations fall short on Donsbachs wish list of five overall competences. I would say, the Danish journalism educations too. Danish journalists will most probably not have expertise in the specific subjects or scientifically based knowledge about the communication process when graduating.

What is the point of trying to professionalise the journalism profession if the employers do not want it? Donbach refers to Debora Wengers study on the job adds where employers want candidates with practical skills, experience and technical knowhow rather than subject expertise, ethics and scientific insights.