Journalism in Democracy and in Media. Conceptualising News Practices and Conventions going into a Digital Age

Essay, 2016
10 Pages, Grade: A


Table of Contents

The Discipline of Journalism in Democracy

The Professionalization of Journalists in Media

Online Convergence and Divergence


The methodology of journalism and its professional application in contemporary media are at a crossroads; ‘its institutional structures, its practices, its role and its perception by the public are all in flux’ (Splichal & Dahlgren 2016). On the one hand, journalism is an ancient academic ‘textual system’ (Hartley 1995) that has a symbiotic relationship with history and law; ‘a hybrid, interdisciplinary mix of the humanities and the social sciences’ (Reese 1999). On the other hand, journalism is a profession evolving out of, and alongside communication advancements, ‘created by the industrial and bourgeois political revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries and fully institutionalised in the mass media’ (Splichal & Dahlgren 2016). These differences are realised in the convergence of different practises and conventions applied in the ‘third wave’ of the internet, where ‘every part of our lives will inevitably rely on an internet connection’ (Case 2016).

This essay will argue that there is a critical dialectic of journalism, as a democratic discipline and as an institutional media profession. Both formulate practises and conventions that, although not entirely separate from one another, present intrinsic and insightful variations. The ‘need to adapt our research thinking to this changing master concept’ (Reese 2016) of journalism requires a contextual understanding of it’s democratic and professional origins; to ‘develop better ways of assessing, evaluating, and articulating the purpose and practise of journalism’ (Tapsall 2001). This is vital to characterise journalism’s future in the digital ‘eco-system’ (Anderson 2013) of online news media. By use of specific examples, this essay will then investigate how journalism is converging online.

The Discipline of Journalism in Democracy

Lamble (2004) set forth in documenting the methodology of journalism as a discipline, and what practises and conventions signalled its procreation. At the start of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC), he outlines what is now considered to be the first known practical expression of journalism:

This method of objective and scientific reporting selects and skilfully arranges facts, enveloping the truth in its symbolic and emotional implications; ‘a deliberate attempt to get the reader to think things through’ (Harloe 2015). Thucydides wanted to present a truthful historical text that time would render relevant, insightful and trusted to readers; ‘judged useful by those who want to understand clearly the events which happened in the past and which (human nature being what it is) will, at some time or another and in much the same ways, be repeated in the future.’ (p48/1: 22).

This break in documentation built the foundation for journalistic conventions, drawing on three facets encompassed in what Startt & Sloan (1989) theorize as a historical study: ‘evidence, interpretation, and narrative’. Thucydides was interested in the why and how, the distinction between the causes that are apparent (the pretext and debates people gave) and what he calls ‘the truest cause, which is often the least evident’ (49/I: 22). This pursuit of the truest cause is the underpinning of the journalistic discipline, ‘based on the concrete assumption that there is a real world to report and that it is possible to report it accurately’ (Windschuttle 1998).

This difference is what bridges history to journalism as a discipline, via the application of law and legal research: ‘investigation and collection of data, analysis of data, and recommendations’ (Lamble 2004). Investigation in journalism will therefore become intrinsic to flesh out appropriations of law, justice, accountability, transparency and democracy; investigating historical data to formulate rational public consensus based on objective truth. Idealistically, this database of historical truths would amalgamate as an informative guide for ‘objective standards of conduct’ within a maturing ‘sphere of consensus’ (Hallin 1984).

This direct presentation of information was the cornerstone of journalism’s role in Athenian democracy. Information was interpreted first hand from speakers and writers; a primary source directly engaging inside the public sphere, with journalism acting as a kind of investigative and historical backdrop for verification. The public, therefore, ‘existed in communication rather then affected by it’ (Reese 2016). This leaves a huge moral, ethical and societal responsibility on journalism’s lasting integrity, probing Lloyd (1999) to conclude that ‘the problems of journalism are, at base, philosophical problems’.

The disciplines of journalism connect to a fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, existence and democracy, fecundating its role as a public service, a watchdog, and the fourth estate; ‘emphasizing community-based, multi-method participant observation’ (Reese 2016). In this respect, the internet’s ‘third wave’ is democratizing, as well as de-professionalizing, news practises and conventions.


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Journalism in Democracy and in Media. Conceptualising News Practices and Conventions going into a Digital Age
University of Auckland
Journalism Studies
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ISBN (Book)
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Journalism history
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Henry Appleyard (Author), 2016, Journalism in Democracy and in Media. Conceptualising News Practices and Conventions going into a Digital Age, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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