Tuesday, September 26, 2006


UK journalism is becoming professionalised, not in a trait-based sense, nor in a market closure sense, but as part of a managerial project designed to ensure control over members using minimally coercive methods of myth cultivation.


Disagreement about the professional status of journalism dates back to the emergence of the occupation.
It can be seen in the 1907 split between the NUJ and the original Chartered Institute of Journalists (IoJ).
Tunstall has argued that, if journalism was professionalising in the '60s, it has gone backwards in the '90s.
But commentary on the 'professionalism question' seems to adopt an 'implicit model of professionalism as a set of traits that was abandoned by sociology thirty years ago' (p. 548)
Newer ideas - of professionalism as market closure to new entrants - have not really been applied to journalism.


National Association of Journalists founded in 1884; acquires Royal Charter six years later.
Part of the NAJ viewed the Charter grant as the capstone of union activities.
A more demanding but by no means radical part viewed improvements in job conditions as more important.
This group left to form the NUJ, modelled on the NUT, and wary of cross-class alliances with, e.g., printers.
The dominance of the NUJ has meant that "the main collective voice of UK journalism... has been that of a 'wages movement', which has accepted the self-definition of journalism as a highly skilled craft best prepared for through apprenticeship" (p. 550)

The NUJ did not pursue market closure, but concentrated on increasing wages.
The IoJ, by contrast, sponsored private members' bills and submitted proposals for a Register of Journalists (1947, 1977).

The 1947 - 49 Royal Commission on the Press did manage to set up an industry-wide training scheme; but this was carried out on the apprenticeship model through the regional press.
Now, however, journalism is being seen as a graduate-entry occupation, with undergraduate courses in journalism being set up in the absence of any industry schemes.


Tunstall (1971) quoted Greenwood's 'five attributes' of a profession, and concluded that journalism could only become a 'semi-profession'.
The 1947 Royal Commission pointed to the lack of direct clients: unlike doctors and lawyers who work for clients, journalists work for editors and publishers.
One aspect of a profession - the ability to draw up an internal standard of conduct - has been singularly lacking in the UK debate.
The 1947 Commission noted that "so far... the Press has not developed the internal organisation necessary for the regulation of its own affairs".
The 2003 House of Commons Select Committee on CMS concluded in much the same fashion.
A second aspect - community sanction or public recognition - is also unlikely, argues Tunstall.
Whilst there are some superstars, most journalists do fairly ordinary work in local and regional papers.
Journalism - he continues - will become more like acting, with large numbers of 'resting' journalists.

New views of professionalization

As we can see from the preceding, neither the trait-based view of professionalisation, nor the market closure version, make sense when applied to UK journalism.
However, we can think of professionalisation in other sense - as a means of ensuring control over members using minimally coercive methods (the reference here is to Foucault).
It is in this sense that the authors believe that the discourse of professionalisation has been used, not so much by journalists themselves, but by managers.

The key claim is this:
"Despite the rejection of ‘professional’ styles of collective occupational control, being ‘professional’ is a prominent component of news journalists’
occupational ideology. The pivot is applying the canons of ‘objectivity’: the separation of news and comment; of ‘facts’ and value-infused commentary." (p. 558).
Management enters through changes in the mode of production:
"Newsrooms are open-plan, so reporters are always under the eye of middle management". Stories can be seen online by senior managers whilst they are being written.
This intensive scrutiny and surveillance is miles away from the constructed discourse that surrounds journalism - which journalists themselves concoct and re-create.
"As professional story tellers it is hardly surprising that journalists have an unusually elaborate and frequently paraded occupational belief
system in which rugged individualism, frightening but charismatic editors, and outrageous behaviour are central themes. Indeed we have argued elsewhere (Aldridge 1998) that this self-image as autonomous, insouciant – even mildly deviant – is clung to and embellished precisely
because the work is increasingly routine and constrained. And journalism is an intensely reflexive occupation which constantly talks to and about itself. Apart from the compulsive consumption of competitors’ output, there is an increasing volume of media industry news in trade magazines and national newspapers themselves. Taken together with the reminiscence that is a staple of British Journalism Review and the constant supply of autobiography, there is plenty to sustain the occupational culture" (p.560)

But journalists have done more than just incorporate this into a mental image of their occupation as a skilled craft.
Aldridge and Everett write that "At the level of the actor, it is hard to imagine a graduate workforce identifying with the traditional posture of the journalist as social outsider" - but the data they cite are the same data used by Delano (specifically, those questions on journalists' social status compared to other occupations), who was ambivalent about concluding that there was a desire for professionalisation.

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