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Jane B. SINGER (2007), “Professional and popular claims to journalistic norms” in Journalism Studies, 8:1, 79-95

Professional journalists defend a claim, that is central not only to journalism but to all professions : the claim for “autonomy over articulation and enactment of its own norms” (p. 79). There are two central norms in the ideology of professional journalism : (1) commitment to truth, and (2) to transparency (or public accountability). Since all journalists have been constrained to evolve in a networked environnement, they have been driven to accept the fact that the definition of these norms can now be changed… These norms are open to reinterpretation because of the competition introduced – into the information sector – by the means of millions of uncensored, unmediated, uncontroled voices that “have now discovered and begun to exercise the ability to express themselves online” (p. 79). To put it briefly : the Internet starts to introduce open an participatory patterns inside the profession, and provokes a blurring of the once-clear distinctions between “professional” and “amateur” journalists, “senders” and “receivers”, or “producers” and “consumers” (i.e. “produsage” BRUNS). What is it that replaces these traditional dichotomies? Well : “ a vast, fluid, ongoing and multi-voiced discourse” (cf. BURNETT & MARSHALL, 2003).

In 2006, in the United States, one third of the internet users, pretended using blogs among their sources for news (LENHART & FOX, 2006). In this context, some “A-list” bloggers, interested in matters of public interest, rapidly transformed into genuine opinion leaders (TRAMMEL & KESCHELACHVILI, 2005). And some of them became key resources, not only for citizens, but for the journalists themselves… They are now percieved – not necessarily as a more trustworthy, accurate or credible source of information, but instead – as “opinionated, analytical, independent and personal” sources (JOHNSON & KAYE, 2004, pp. 633-4). Researchers are now increasingly interested in their role in politics (KERBEL&BLOOM, 2005; TRAMELL et AL., 2006; WILLIAMS et AL., 2005). WALL (2006) believes they challenge elite information control (e.g. iraqi bloggers), taking distance with traditional sources, and trying to assert their own opinions. All of this, raises uncomfortable questions about who a journalist is, can or must be…

Most journalists “consider themselves as professionals in the important sense that they feel loyalty to the ideals of a profession and a particular assortment of shared norms” (cf. PATTERSON & WILKINS, 2005). And, more importantly, they consider these professional norms as “public service obligations”. It is also considered that a necessary condition for the implementation of these norms is autonomy, independance, which is now part of the ethical code of the Society of Professional Journalists (2006).

The “Public Journalism” movement, of the 1990’, was an attempt to increase journalistic autonomy (in a non-networked society). The idea was to defend public interest through the means of a professional figure (HAAS, 2005, McDEVITT, 2003). Journalistic routines, structures and decisions were traditionally shaped, not only by reporters themselves, but also by editors. “The hierarchical news work environment includes not only reporters but also editors, whose job involves ensuring that the information reaching the public is ethically sound” (p. 81). The editor is the gatekeeper – the one who decides what is newsorthy and what is not – and the journalist has very little to say about that… And that gives an explanation to some journalistic failures at fulfilling the information needs of democratic societies (GANS, 2003; JANOWITZ, 1975; KOVACH & ROSENSTIEL, 2001). A little bit further, Singer declares “The journalist puts great stock in the ability to pursue truth independent of external control over how that pursuit should be undertaken, but the journalist also cedes individual autonomy over the process to normative oversight by both an employer and the profession at large” (p. 86).

Singer discusses « commitment to truth » and « commitment to transparency » in details…

Journalists Bloggers
Commitment to truth -Consensus around the idea that “truth” and objectivity” should be central journalistic values.  – Accuracy, concrete truth (MERRILL, 1996), factchecking, honesty, social responsibility etc.- the journalist’s truth is created hierarchically.- Inside the newsroom, truth is a “prerequisite to discourse

-Gatekeeping (verifying > dessiminating) (KOVACH & ROSENSTIEL, 2001)

– “Bloggers also are commited to truth- but they have quite different ideas of how best to attain it and what to do with it. They do not see truth as resting on the decisions of one autonomous  individual or group of individuals within a news organisation or anywhere else. Instead, bloggers see truth as emerging from shared, collective knowledge- form an electronically enabled marketplace of ideas (SINGER, 2005)”-Knowledge and truth evolve trough connections, rather than being contained within one particular medium (cf. MATHESON, 2004, p. 460). The blogger’s truth is created collectively.- inside the blogosphere, truth is supposed to be the “result of discourse

-No gatekeping (dessiminating > put into question)

Commitment to transparency -What truth is to journalists, transparency is to bloggers… Journalists also value tranparency, but they define it in a quite different way… stressing the importance of being responsible and honest : “being honnest about the nature of what is known and how that knowledge has been generated” (KOVACH & ROSENTIEL, 2001).-Transparency is closely connected with social “responsibility” (CHRISTIANS & NORDENSTRENG, 2004) and “accountability (for)”. It consists in “clarifying and explaining coverage; inviting dialogue with the public about journalistic conduct; encouraging the public to voice grievances about the news media; and admitting and promtly correcting mistakes” (p. 87, cf. SPJ, 1996)-Internal vigilance is a sufficent condition to transparency -Blogger’s goldern rule (LASCICA, 2005)-Linking sources, and allowing the reader to put them into question. (BLOOD, 2002)- Disclosure/Accountability : “How you got your information and what factors influenced your decision to publish it” (Online Journalism Review, 2005)

-These “tranparency” goals can only be achieved by an unfettered press, which requires watchdogs on watchdogs

-Trust & credibility must be earned by both journalists (+  institutional trust) and bloggers (+ personal trust)

Normative constructs : Truth and transparency

The god-terms of journalism (facts, truth and reality) are called into questions by contemporary notions of relativity, subjectivity and construction. Post-modernists recently suggested that the idea that the concept of truth is devoid of meaning appart from a « highly subjective contextual understanding » (cf. PATTERSON & WILKINS, 2005). Singer evokes other definitions such as « version of the world that subsequent information cannot discredit [MS1] ». (BLACK et AL., 1999). “Trust in the basic truthfulness of the communication we receive from others is central to choices and actions needed to maintain social order; a society whose members were unable to distinguish truthful messages from deceptive ones would collapse” (cf. BOK, 1989). Inside online communication, it becomes “difficult to assess the truthfulness of what someone says about reliable reference points” (cf. TOMPKINS, 2003). Computer-mediated environment reconfigures prevailing ethical systems based on truth and identity (cf. Will to deception for GUNKEL & HAWHEE, 2003)…


[1]She does not mention POPPER’s view, though it is the dominant view in the scientific sector today… There is no such thing as apodictic truth, we call « true »… all the well corroborated hypotheses that include the conditions of their own falsification.

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