Stevens, Jeremy and Fuller, Glen. Journalistic challenges of the public and private: Exploring professional and ethical norms [online]. Australian Journalism Review, Vol. 39, No. 1, Jul 2017: 113-125.
Authors’ note: This article develops the idea of ‘commentary as method’. ‘Commentary’ is derived from Foucault’s Discourse on Language and related texts and reworked into a method for engaging with ‘commentary’ texts assembled into large corpus of materials (i.e. via ‘big data’ methods).
Journalism has been described as a “profession in a permanent process of becoming” (Deuze and Witschge, 2017, p. 13). This paper investigates a decade of commentary (2006-2015) from news media industry “grey literature” that engages with the ongoing rearticulation of professional norms. We focus on the ethical challenges resulting from changes in part wrought by social media-based communications technologies. Our archive consists of 1156 articles published through US-based Poynter Institute, Nieman Lab and Nieman Reports. Using a “hybrid methodology” (Lewis, Zamith, and Hermida, 2013), we carried out a close reading discourse analysis of the commentary. Our initial goal was to understand the shift in the character of discourse from one organised around a single set of changes (“the digital”, “the internet”, and so on) to a more multi-dimensional appreciation of such changes. The character of critical commentary itself changes at various points in the archive to engage with problems that are now familiar. These include commentary about the verification of information and the “truth”, sourcing techniques, the blurring of public and private spheres and changing behaviours of publicity. Indeed, these ethical and professional challenges for journalists are not new for the most part. Our key finding is that there is a struggle to rearticulate “traditional” norms in order to adapt to the shifting dynamics of online networked media and their ethical and professional implications. In an era of ongoing change, this normative reflex demands further attention.