J-School: Educating Independent Journalists

“If tools could make anyone who picked them up an expert, they’d be valuable indeed.” Plato, The Republic

Participatory Journalism as a Two (or Three) Axis Field (Pt II)

Posted by chanders on February 25, 2006

Here’s an example of what I mean:

The x axis represents that degree to which the form cultural production in question is an autonomous from politics, the economy, and the consumers of that culture. In this case it is worth contrasting the example of "pure science" with that of journalism in order to get a better idea what I mean. Science purports to be an extraordinarily autonomous field– its producers answer only to other members of the scientific community, and research, which often requires an extraordinarily high level of investment, can take years and even then often fails in its goals. Journalism, on the other hand, produces a daily product that is (in the West) almost totally subservient to the economic field and the tastes of its audience (in fact, one of the major historical changes in journalism over the course of the late 19th to early 20th century was its shift from a dependence on politics to a dependence on the market.)

As we can see, therefore, the field of science lurks near the right of the x-axis while journalism sits to the left.

The y-axis represents the degree to which the professional knowledge base of the cultural field is closed ("jealous") or open ("generous"). Science, especially in its pure form, represents the one of the most closed of the culture producing disciplines, while journalism’s knowledge base is much more open to outside penetration. As Michael Schudson has noted, "There is an insistence [within journalism] that J-school is entirely unnecessary, and there remains plenty of evidence that this is so." And some of the most famous journalists, historically speaking, have been writers of another sort– like Mark Twain or Upton Sinclair.

The primary object of interest here is, of course, the field of online journalism, to which the other fields are added for the sake of comparison. Online journalism, which its "pro-am" or deprofessionalized ethos, is even more generous than traditional journalism. And online journalism, at least in its current form, is more autonomous that traditional journalism– although some bloggers obviously feel some obligation to their readership, and others are tied closely to the political sphere, it would be foolish to argue that online journalism is less autonomous than the capital intensive projects that comprise most forms of traditional journalism. Despite these differences, these forms of journalism are much more similar to each other than they are, say, to science.

Key points:

*** Relationship between the various forms of professional journalistic closure and generosity, given the comments below and the expertise paradox identified by Schudson.
*** Historical movement within the axis– trad. journalism moving towards a more closed form of knowledge; online journalism doing the same (??) or losing its autonomy(??).

By the way, its good to be able to find one of the earlier attempts I made to graph this all out back almost a year ago to this very day! Lets here it for keeping a journal.

PS: this line of thinking is almost entirely ripped off from

Eyal, "Dangerous liaisons between military intelligence and Middle Eastern studies in Israel" (Theory and Society, 2002)

Rose, "Engineering the human soul: Analyzing psychological expertise" (Science in Context, 1992)

Benson, "Field theory in comparative context: A new paradigm for media studies" (Theory and Society, 1999)


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