Engaged Journalism’s Standards – Tradition and Transformation

The culture of professional journalism is strong. Many professional journalists regard the notion of engaged journalism as unimaginable, wrongheaded, or both. They see engagement as advocacy and can’t envision how journalism can engage with the public without lowering standards and abandoning core principles of independence and objectivity. Hearken, a company that “helps organizations listen better to those they serve and create reciprocal relationships,” studied 100 practitioners of journalism engagement. It found that the biggest barrier to changing was “just internal politics and the culture in the newsroom.”

At the same time, many in the public, especially those who feel they have never been well-served by journalism, doubt that journalists can be more open, responsive, and accountable. They perceive journalistic independence as elitism or even hostility. Many people see journalists as honoring their articulated ethical values situationally, especially the core value of minimizing harm in their reporting. Those who argue journalism needs fundamental change see journalists as more of the problem than the solution.

Given these attitudes within the profession and about it, the time is right and the need is real for a fuller articulation of the values, standards, and ethics to guide and promote Engaged Journalism. The time is right because journalists have unprecedented ability to connect with people, and people have unprecedented ability to connect with information and each other. The need is real because the current situation is unsustainable. Journalists and people will either come together, or journalism and democracy will come apart.

What traditional values or standards of journalism must be protected or improved so that journalism distinguishes itself from other forms of communication? How might each of those standards or values be enhanced by shifting the paradigm from a distributive model of one-way communication to an engaged perspective?

Having clarity about these issues will help journalists see the benefits and possibilities of Engaged Journalism while navigating the risks. That clarity will also help the public evaluate the quality of journalism they receive and create meaningful ways to contribute to it. Both journalists and the public will have a better sense of journalistic accountability and whether Engaged Journalism is living up to its new mission to make journalism more open, accessible, collaborative and participatory.

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