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Definitions of Journalism

What is Journalism?

Over 500 journalists from all over the world have taken part in the Fellowship Programme over the past 30 years. We asked a selection of our former Fellows for their thoughts on the profession, its challenges, and how it is perceived in their country. Here is a sample of their responses to the following question:

Is there an accepted brief definition of 'journalism' in your country and what do you see as the major challenges facing it?

"In HK, journalism just means mass media. The challenges it is facing is the increasing trend of self-censorship as HK is relying more and more on China. A lot of media owners have business interests in China. At the same time, HK citizens realise the need of HK to depend on China for future growth and survival. So they also want the media to be less critical of China. Pragmatism dominates." Hong Kong

"Concerning the definition of journalism in Egypt and the major obstacles facing the profession, I think it really needs a lot of effort to achieve any kind of agreement concerning a one solid definition for journalism – but I can say on my way of thinking that many of the Egyptian journalists in Egypt consider this job as the fourth estate or the watchdog of the society, and considers the lack of professional training for journalists one of the biggest problems that faces journalists in Egypt." Egypt

"There is no accepted brief definition of journalism in the United States. The issue stems partly from the rise of Internet communications, in which people without experience or qualifications present themselves as reporters or commentators (unvetted, unedited), and in which the audience self-limits the information it receives and grants credibility to the information that supports its point of view." USA

"Regarding your question: No, there's not an 'accepted brief definition of 'journalism' in Argentina, at least not in terms of what you can get from an academic point of view. In general, I think the major challenge journalism faces these days is the Internet, the Age of Information, the Digital Revolution: how traditional media can make the adjustments and survive; what sort of impact is getting from non-traditional expressions such as the so-called 'citizen journalism.'" Argentina

"Definition of Journalism: Journalism in Germany is often called the fourth pillar of the state; its rights are stated in the German constitution that guarantees the freedom of speech. The founder of one of the most famous journalism schools in the country, Wolf Schneider, defined journalism as follows: To cut a path of information through the jungle of worldly affairs and to keep an eye on the people in power. Its greatest challenges: At the moment, the greatest challenge to the freedom of the press in Germany is the uncertain economic situation and, because of this, the pressure on the media from declining advertising revenue as well as growing demands of proprietors to cut costs often to the detriment of journalistic quality." Germany

"As for a definition of journalism in NZ, I believe we follow the principle of fair and balanced reporting of news and issues that affect our community. The Otago Daily Times has a mission statement to: publish news, information and opinion in a fair, balanced and truthful manner that best serves our community. That underpins our role as journalists." New Zealand

"As journalism in Brazil has become less analytical and investigative in the past ten years, it means essentially description of reality. In the newsrooms these days in Brazil normally there are no discussions, planning nor evaluation of the articles. Any search of new approaches is very rare. The old idea of journalism as mere writing still reigns. Major challenges are motivating journalists to research, to analyse, to evaluate their own work, to grow intellectually and culturally, and do have more of a global view." Brazil

"Journalism is a word that covers a multitude of sins – perhaps too many. Change challenges us all – journalism is nothing terribly special in that regard (although we like to think it is)." UK

"My definition about journalism: gathering news for newspaper or website. This is in Holland a job that can be done freely." Holland

"I really can't speak on behalf of the 'scientific community' or all the practitioners, but I would say that the accepted and prevalent definition refers to journalism as a process of conveying information in an objective and impartial way. Briefly, the major challenges relate to 'infotainment' – sensationalism and triviality which are seizing an increasingly larger proportion of the media content (in mainstream dailies and weeklies and on the national public television); lack of quality investigative and follow-up reporting. Also, studies of journalism have questionable standards and too traditional curriculum (they lag behind the times, and don't keep pace with numerous changes in the profession, such as online journalism, new communication technologies, etc...)." Croatia

"I think the U.S. has the broadest definition of journalism in the game. The challenges facing us are: 1)getting the thoughtful and intelligent content heard above the roar; 2) ensuring the economic future of journalism; 3) ensuring that journalism, freedom of the press and the freedom of citizens to inquire about and monitor their government and private industry are not unduly abridged by government." USA

"I suppose the definition of "journalism" in Poland is much similar to that in Britain. In my personal opinion the greatest threat comes not from bloggers and the like (who in Poland are very often journalists anyway), but from lack of professionalism and tabloidisation. Not that it will kill us soon, though." Poland

"As a former President of the Media Association of Trinidad and Tobago, I can say that here the agreed definition of a journalist is someone involved in the gathering and disseminating of news as their premier occupation. The Media Association was challenged for this somewhat vague definition which explicitly sought to exclude talk show hosts, newspaper columnists who were academics or otherwise employed; and other media personalities who sought to be included sometimes for no other reason than gaining access to a press pass. The debate over this issue has still not been settled and there is also some ambivalence over the status of persons who work State-owned information dissemination organisations. We now have bloggers to add to the debate." Trinidad & Tobago

"In my opinion, the major challenge is how to maintain high quality news reports and uphold the journalist values in such a small but extremely competitive market in HK." Hong Kong

"I would like to say that every journalist in my country would like to think that our profession means sourcing for the true, objective presentation of the reality and expressing the judgements. Yet, in reality, journalist often means serving the interests of the different social groups, and business in particular." Croatia

"As for the question about the definition of Journalism in Japan, it is difficult...actually we do not have its specific definition as there is no completely equivalent words for 'journalism' in Japanese language. It is a complicated linguistic matter: we imported the word 'journalism' in our language with Japanese pronunciation 'ja-narizumu', which is misunderstood as to be something quite sophisticated and somehow different from news media. How can I explain this distorted perception?" Japan

"There are two types of definitions of journalism in America. The journalists' definition, which British journalists would recognise, involving integrity, objectivity, rigour, etc. Then there is the definition critics of the media use. Here I mean folks who think the 'mainstream media,' now often identified with an acronym, MSM, has failed the USA. Those critics are on both the left and right. The left thinks the MSM has failed to capture real Americans' lives (the experience of the dishwasher, the teacher in the classroom, the 20-something who works in an office by day and spins records by night). The right thinks the MSM is biased, and it probably is. Most MSM reporters are from the coasts or Chicago, are over-educated and have no scruples about drug use, premarital sex, homosexuality, government intervention in the economy and the other bogeymen of people from Alabama. The challenge is simply figuring out how the journalists can continue to work for publications (including websites) that make money in the face of competition from media critics who create their own publications and websites that reflect their (in my view) bowdlerised version of journalism. I see it less as an issue of journalism practice than of corporate practicality. The money people need to figure out their side. The journalists are already adapting, but can't compromise their values too much." USA