The notion of professionalism within journalism is widespread and has been thoroughly explored. “Professionalism” refers to a normative value system utilized by professionals in relation to their clients, work practices, and occupational socialization. The perspective implies a number of characteristics distinguishing professions from occupations: autonomy, exclusive knowledge, ethical codes of conduct, occupational ideals/culture, and altruistic features (i.e., to act in the public interest). Jointly, these values function as a framework for journalists in everyday practice, guiding and controlling them. In a Western context, this framework legitimizes the social contract that allows journalism the privilege of autonomy and self-regulation on a structural level. The professionalism of journalists has been empirically studied since the 1950s, and the field is constantly expanding. Similar popular conceptualizations when interrogating the norms, practice, and ideals of journalists include, for instance, “role,” “habitus,” “interpretive community,” “ideology,” and “culture.” However, the major body of journalism studies has tried to capture those aspects from a perspective of professional theory. Today, the professional status of journalists is challenged and questioned. Exclusivity is broken, autonomy declines, and other actors are increasingly redefining the field. In this context, new methods and ideals arise. The professional discourse of journalists evolves and adapts in new ways, as does the research in this area.
From the end of the 19th century until the present, journalists have created associations, trade unions, clubs, and major international networks to organize workers, defend their rights, set out their duties, establish rules of good conduct, and structure their professional journalistic skills. These journalistic organizations are central actors in the history of the professionalization of journalistic groups around the world. They have enabled journalists to make their demands public, exchange views with journalists from other countries, and sometimes even promote and achieve legal recognition of their profession. In general terms, they have provided journalists with fora to discuss their working conditions, their profession, and the social role of the media and journalism. In this way, they have helped to structure not only discourses and practices, but also networks of solidarity at both national and international levels. These organizations can exist in different arenas: within media companies, at the national level, or internationally. And, despite their variety over time, they have often pursued similar objectives: protect journalists’ pay and employment conditions and status; conceive strategies to maintain a certain form of autonomy in authoritarian political contexts; nourish international networking ambitions that have made it possible to disseminate ways of doing and thinking journalism; and finally generate a set of actions that aims to defend the ethics of journalism, the quality of news, and the lives of journalists.
The study of journalists’ professional roles is a principal avenue to understand journalism’s identity and place in society. From the perspective of discursive institutionalism, one could argue that journalistic roles have no true “essence”; they exist as part of a wider framework of meaning—of a discourse. At the core of this discourse is journalism’s identity and locus in society. As structures of meaning, journalistic roles set the parameters of what is desirable in the institutional context of journalism: they are subject to discursive (re)creation, (re)interpretation, appropriation, and contestation. In other words, the discourse of journalistic roles is the central arena where journalistic culture and identity is reproduced and contested; it is the place where the struggle over the preservation or transformation of journalism’s identity takes place. Journalists articulate and enact journalistic roles on two analytically distinct levels: role orientations (normative and cognitive) and role performance (practiced and narrated). The four categories of journalistic roles—normative, cognitive, practiced, and narrated roles—correspond to conceptually distinct ideas: what journalists ought to do, what they want to do, what they really do in practice, and what they think they do. Normative roles encompass generalized and aggregate expectations that journalists believe are deemed desirable in society. Most normative roles of journalists are derived from a view that emphasizes journalism’s (potential) contribution to the proper workings of democracy. Cognitive role orientations comprise the institutional values, attitudes and beliefs individual journalists embrace as a result of their occupational socialization. These roles tend to appear as evident, natural, and self-explaining to the journalists. They index their individual aspirations and ambitions and the communicative goals they want to achieve through their work. Practiced role performance captures the roles of journalists as they are executed in practice; narrated roles, finally, denominate subjective perceptions of and reflections on the roles that journalists carry out in practice. Comparative research has demonstrated that journalists tend to subscribe to a variety of cognitive roles, largely depending on the political and social contexts they work in. Here, journalistic roles address six elementary needs of political life: informational-instructive, analytical-deliberative, critical-monitorial, advocative-radical, developmental-educative, and collaborative-facilitative needs. In a time, however, when traditional social institutions cease to provide a normative framework, journalism increasingly provides collective orientation in a multi-optional society. In the domain of everyday life, journalism’s normative roles therefore extend to the contexts of consumption, identity, and emotion. Over time, researchers have shifted their focus from the analysis of journalists’ occupational values, attitudes, and beliefs to the study of journalistic performance and the way professional orientations are enacted in the world of practice. Studies of this type so far produced seemingly contradictory evidence: one the one hand, there seems to be a gap between the roles journalists aspire to and the roles they execute in practice, but at the same time, many studies also found a robust correlation between cognitive and performed roles of journalists.
Merryn Sherwood, Timothy Marjoribanks, and Matthew Nicholson
The relationship between journalism and public relations in the 21st century has been mostly marked by tension, at least publicly. Many journalists’ accounts of public relations portray it as “the dark side” and characterize public relations practitioners as purveyors of “spin.” However, extensive research examining the input of public relations practitioners into the news has found that the products of their work—such as media releases or media conferences—are crucial in facilitating the news cycle. As one of the classic studies of news production identified, “News is, after all, not what journalists think, but what their sources say.” Decades of research have established that news sources are often likely to be public relations practitioners, with anywhere between 40% and 75% of news originating from public relations practitioners or the products of their work. Public relations is, therefore, critical to the work of journalism; however, journalists often deny this as part of publicly upholding the standards of their profession and building and maintaining boundaries of control over their work. However, the symbiotic relationship that formed the basis of news production in the 20th century is being upended in the 21st century as organizations become their own media producers. This means the lines continue to blur between journalism and public relations, both for individuals working across once clear occupational and professional boundary lines and for organizations adopting the functions of both.
A community of practice (CoP) situated in a health and risk context is an approach to collaboration among members that promotes learning and development. In a CoP, individuals come together virtually or physically and coalesce around a common purpose. CoPs are defined by knowledge, rather than task, and encourage novices and experienced practitioners to work together to co-create and embed sustainable outputs that impact on theory and practice development. As a result, CoPs provide an innovative approach to incorporating evidence-based research associated with health and risk into systems and organizations aligned with public well-being. CoPs provide a framework for constructing authentic and collaborative learning. Jeanne Lave and Etienne Wenger are credited with the original description of a CoP as an approach to learning that encompasses elements of identity, situation, and active participation. CoPs blend a constructivist view of learning, where meaningful experience is set in the context of “self” and the relationship of “self” with the wider professional community. The result is an integrated approach to learning and development achieved through a combination of social engagement and collaborative working in an authentic practice environment. CoPs therefore provide a strategic approach to acknowledging cultural differences related to translating health and risk theory into practice. In health and risk settings, CoPs situate and blend theory and practice to create a portal for practitioners to generate, shape, test, and evaluate new ideas and innovations. Membership of a CoP supports the development of professional identity within a wider professional sphere and may support community members to attain long range goals.