Journalism James W. Carey Has Written A Term Paper

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¶ … Journalism? James W. Carey has written a thought-provoking essay on what journalism has in, has become, and might be. His central thoughts involve journalism's roles within the university and within our larger democratic society. He focuses on what he calls the "three axioms" of journalism (as summarized by Wartella), " that journalism is a practice distinguished by its form; second, that as a social practice, journalism reporting and writing should not be confused with technologies of communication (e.g. broadcast, print) or the institutions in which such a practice occurs (e.g. newspapers, television stations); and third, that journalistic practice is an important institution for the maintenance of democracy."

The difficulty is that none of those axioms allow journalism to fit in neatly either in university life or in real life. In university life, journalism is the orphaned child of the English department, which he suggests happened at least partly...

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All the writers, including Cary and the three commentators, recognize that the setting within which journalism is placed makes a difference. Carey prefers a more science orientation, with journalism connected to a view of sociology that emphasizes the influence of place. The sociologists argue that studying people while ignoring where they live is intrinsically distorting. The other approach, aligning journalism with "communications," is something all writers are uncomfortable with.
Perhaps journalists should be uncomfortable with aligning themselves too closely with the larger discipline of Communications. They should be aware of their history. As the writers have pointed out, Pulitzer had a lot to do with the founding of the field, now viewed as a profession, and he did it out of competition with Hearst, not out of high flung academic ideals. This is not to say Pulitzer…

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The commentators are right. Journalism is not "Communications." Communications is public relations, sometimes mistaken for journalism by readers when newspapers reprint press releases without changing a single word, giving it an undeserved patina of news. Corporations within publishing have had a profound effect on how newspapers are presented to readers: journalists writing for USA TODAY are taught to write in pyramid form, so that each paragraph can be the last paragraph. The first paragraph is the tip of the pyramid, and technically, the paste up editor can just snip off the rest of the article after that first paragraph, and it would stand alone and seem complete. Each following paragraph would have that quality, so that the paste up editor can simply shorten any article with impunity to suit page layout.

The chilling part of that description is that it would seem complete. It might be argued that the best journalism digs below the surface, and perhaps what is found could not be presented in any kind of balanced or accurate way in paragraph/soundbites. Writing under such rules of constraint might arguably be viewed more as the domain of Communications than Journalism. It is Communications that addresses functional writing for a purpose-- not only public relations, but speeches and advertising.

Marshall McCluhan said back in the 1960's that "the media is the message." We see in 2004 that this is true. On television we hear sound bites, and it seems possible that one sound bite of Howard Dean, picked up by a highly directional microphone that exaggerated its impact, may have ruined his chances of a run for the Democratic nomination for pregnancy. That incident was communication, but not journalism.


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