Is journalism a profession? What arguments and evidence would you put forth to support or deny any claim that journalism has to being a profession? Journalists play an intrinsic part of the media landscape, which in turn reflects and influences society. However, as a profession it is different to comparable occupations. Accountants, lawyers, teachers and doctors are expected to undergo unique, specific and vigorous training processes.
The very nature of their occupations requires high levels of knowledge and skills, which their respective professional bodies ensure through high standards of entry qualifications and rigorous training and examinations attainments. Professional codes of practice regulate behaviour and determine continued membership, which has maintained high standards of professional integrity and historically given these groups a privileged position in the hierarchy of professions.
Journalism has traditionally been viewed as a more vocational career. As such, until recently, there have been fewer opportunities to study it as a formal subject. Related associations are few and regulation is arguably more relaxed that in other professions. But do these fundamental differences make journalism any less a profession? Are indeed journalists themselves any less professional in their work? I would argue that whilst journalism isn’t a profession in the most traditional sense, it does in fact qualify on most levels.
In the last decade, in particular, the level of conventional ‘professionalism’ in the UK has increased, with the introduction of a more established and recognised association and professional qualification. In order to begin addressing some of these issues, it is important to investigate the internal mechanisms and structures of media organisations and the external forces that impact upon them. It is also relevant to consider different approaches to what we understand as an occupation. So what actually constitutes a profession?
In a very simplified form, it refers to status and expertise. Being a professional in a particular field involves having a certain level of accomplishment, as opposed to amateurism. It also denotes commitment, in both an ethical and moral sense to one’s career or organisation. From this perspective, journalism fits the definition of a profession with little debate. However, if we consider what constitutes a profession from a sociological perspective, the scenario is not so clear-cut. There are three key factors that differentiate a profession from any other employment.
These defining factors consist of specific qualifications, a central body with particular codes of conduct and a certain level of hierarchy as a result of that profession. So how does journalism fit into this model? Looking at the history of journalism in the UK provides a useful basis for further study. Until 1952 there was no standardised entry into journalism. There existed no pre-requisite for particular qualifications and many journalists entered the industry little or no higher education. The basic proficiencies were reading, writing and arithmetic.
The Royal Commission of the Press admitted in 1952 that this process was fairly haphazard – It is no doubt true that vocational training in journalism can be acquired only on the job. But there is a clear distinction between learning to be a journalist and acquiring the degree of general education, which is necessary for a journalist to have. (The Royal Commission on the Press, 1949, p. 166) It was this recommendation that led to the introduction of the National Advisory Council for the Training and Education of Junior Journalists in 1952, which later became the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ).
The NCTJ brought together representatives from two trade union bodies the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) and the Institute of Journalists (IOJ), to improve the qualification and training of journalists. Two employer bodies were also included, the Newspaper Society and the Guild of British Newspaper Editors (membership has since expanded). In 1977 it was concluded that a minimum qualification was required to enter journalism. The Royal Commission on the Press recommended that minimum entry requirements should be five GCE subjects, with two at A Level (or equivalent).