J-School: Educating Independent Journalists

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

Some Possible Comps. Questions, Pt. 2: The Social Construction of the Reporter

Posted by chanders on April 15, 2006

Here are some thoughts on my second set of comprehensive exam readings:

My primary concern with these readings on the “cultural construction of the reporter” is to examine the role played by the “professional ideal” in the creation of the reporter as a “separate occupational class” worthy of both social deference and legal protection. Schudson points to the Jacksonian democratic revolution as the moment at which reporters began to see their role as that of providing the “news of the day” rather than gathering partisan intelligence. However, according to Schudson, it took the ferment of the Progressive era of the 1910’s and 20’s to institutionalize journalism as a profession– part of the a more general progressive belief in the advisability of “rule of experts.” Carey agrees that the progressive era marked a decisive shift, though he laments this severing of the journalist from “the public.”

Two major historical moments in the construction of the journalist, then, were the 1920’s and the 1830’s. However, as Whalgren-Summers makes clear, the professional reporter did not emerge in any sort of clear or evolutionary fashion. While there were large-scale social and cultural forces at work that were changing journalism, this transition was confused, halting, and difficult. Summers thus makes clear that studies of professionalization should not neglect the middle of the 19th century. In her work on the Bohemian Brigade, Tucher draws out the class implications of post-Civil War moves toward professionalization. Garcia also looks to the 19th century, arguing that the increasingly complexity of the journalistic enterprise reinforced a tendency towards journalists conception of themselves as a “special class.” As a special class intimately familiar with the processes and complexities of their work, journalists began to feel that only they could judge the appropriateness of their behavior. “In daily contact with the press and all it did from the “inside,”” Garcia argues “journalists worked within a social institution grown so complex by 1890 that even they had difficulty understanding it … Journalists were thus becoming something of a separate class, a separateness indicated by increasing numbers of articles and lectures by journalists intended to explain how the press worked.”

Other interesting questions– less easily integrated into the previous paragraphs– concern challenges to this social construction. For example, compare the work of Glessing on the underground press of the 1960’s with the New Journalism of Tom Wolfe et. al. Why was new journalism so much more successful in challenging the self-conception of the press than the underground media of the 1960’s? Politics? Internal vs. external critique? And how (a la Rosen) does this relate to the new online challenges to journalism?

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