Posted by: Ciaran | June 14, 2010

Who can be a journalist?

I’ve just read this post on the “value of journalism by Martin Cloake, which forms the first in what should be an interesting week of debate with the Freelance Unbound blog on the topic.

Martin writes: “Journalism never was a profession, despite many journalists pretending it was. Anyone could call themselves a journalist, and that hasn’t changed.

“What has changed is that more people who call themselves journalists have access to the means of publication. Which is probably why the debate has got increasingly heated.”

I’m not sure it is quite as clean cut as that. I’m not being elitist about journalism because to an extent we all do it in some form in our day-to-day lives: simply by phoning a friend and telling them what happened when you went out the night before is a form of reporting, of storytelling.

But it’s not journalism, per se. For me, people who want to call themselves journalists have to have the core skillset – the legal knowledge, an understanding of public affairs, a close appreciation of anything they specialise in – coupled with the ability to write eloquently.

That’s what differentiates the experts that are interviewed for a story rather than writing it themselves – they might know everything there is to know about their area of expertise, but if they can’t put it in to a readable 350-word story for their audience then they can’t be called journalists, even if they want to sit and write about the topic.

Maybe anyone can call themselves a journalist – but that doesn’t mean everyone can ‘do’ journalism.


  1. I’m with you on this, Ciaran, but it’s important to be precise about what we mean by ‘journalism’ as opposed to ‘communication’. After that comes the even tougher bit of asking which of the things we come up with can be ‘done’ by more people than our trade has cared to admit, and which are the things we have to defend and preserve as real skills.

    Hope to see you taking part in the debate over on our blogs.

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  3. “Maybe anyone can call themselves a journalist – but that doesn’t mean everyone can ‘do’ journalism.”

    I absolutely agree with that statement. I have major respect for real journalists, just as I have major respect for anyone who really ‘does’ their profession.

    IT for example has long suffered this issue; anyone can “do” IT, but few can really “DO” IT. The net result? Many half-bit support monkeys, bad programmers, poor designers, etc. lowering the pay cheque for those with the real skills.

    But the issue appears to be in every trade. A fantastic example is taking place in the US at the moment where Rand Paul who has claimed to be a certified ophthalmologist is only so because he started his own certification board! Take a look:

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