A reporter reports. An editor edits. A journalist . . . journals? Defining what journalists actually do isn’t nearly that easy. Not only that, articulating how it differs from, say, reporters and editors, is a little more difficult than one might expect. The biggest trait I’ve noticed in defining journalism against everything else is the integrity of the story, including the motivation behind writing and the style of writing.
Journalists, as called by a higher power, might ideally be in the mood to pull a Woodward every now and again. On a daily basis, they might dream of living up to their watchdog duties by catching the hidden, dirty stories that others try to hide. Falling short of this ideal doesn’t necessarily discount one from being a journalist, but not trying to achieve this ideal leads to that ostracism. When one’s motivation for presenting a story to the public shifts from being informative to spreading celebrity, propaganda, or personal opinion, that person loses the right to call him- or herself a journalist. Former Indian President Kalam, in explaining the role journalism and media played in his country, stated that “true journalism . . . did not have room for sensationalism.” If the motivation behind presenting a story is to rile people up, like yellow journalism, or promote an ulterior agenda, it is not true journalism.
The second major facet setting journalism off from other professions is the style in which one writes. One blogger, dedicated to journalism, made a 20-point checklist for defining a journalist. #15, as recommended by readers of this blog, is that you know you’re a journalist if “you analyze city council meetings the way sportscasters break down Monday night football.” How does a sportscaster make Monday night football breakdowns interesting? They not only relay information, but they relay it in a clear and interesting way. Journalists differ from reporters greatly in this respect. Reporters, I feel, merely report—if a story uses a lot of technical terms that the general public won’t know, a reporter doesn’t necessarily have to change them. A good journalist, however, strives to make news accessible to the public, thus journalists relay factual information in a way that doesn’t condescend to, but makes information accessible for the public.
Sportscasters will also break down Monday night football in an enthusiastic and storytelling-esque way. Good journalists will also be able to present information and stories in such a fashion which in turn makes the audience more intrigued about the news. In this video, Brogan demonstrates good journalism. He presents facts, but he integrates his own style and storytelling into the report.
Journal (verb): to communicate information, sometimes technical or inaccessible by the public, in an enthusiastic way without hidden agendas for the good of the citizenry. Good journaling will often include an appealing storytelling aspect.
Journalist (noun): one who journals.