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Journalism Studies as the Foundation for the Communication Field?

The day at ICA 2010 ends with the ICA Presidential Address by Barbie Zelitzer, who will focus on journalism studies as a component of the overall discipline of communication research, at a time when both journalism and the discipline face significant challenges. Journalism's centrality to communication is embedded in communication's historical narratives - while parts of communication date back to rhetoric and other fields, there is a strong affinity between journalism and communication. Both were projects born in and of modernity; journalism pursues truth and offers criticism and rationality as key elements, champions reason and free choice, and is committed to progress, democracy, and individuality.

In the early days of communication studies in the US, journalism and journalists figured widely - many founders were journalists or studied them. Some required their doctoral students to have press experience, and journalism schools welcomed communication as a discipline. Mass communication similarly drew on journalism as a chief component. Outside the US, journalism was similarly central, if in different ways; European politicial science, for example, observed journalists, for example, and on this built its approach to communication; Eastern European countries developed a press science, and this gradually transitioned into communication studies. In East Asia, journalism education was similarly key, and journalism departments provided an environment fostering communication research; in Latin America, US communication models were rejected, and participatory models of rural communication were developed; Africa and Australia had their own traditions as well. Journalism, communication, the humanities and social sciences were entwined in different ways.

Journalism and communication could be seen from across the curriculum, but communication was aligned more with social sciences over time, while journalism developed its own positioning - real-world relevance, a setting for engagement, patterned and predictable analytical routines, and a combination of people, practices, values, and structures. Journalism in the US was connected to a certain kind of modernity, involving rationality, progress, freedom of information, and democracy.

But over time, journalism was sidelined and subsumed, especially by mass communication - through work connecting politics and journalism (seeing both as interdependent, and positioning journalism as a means to an end, developing a normative ideal of journalism in the service of political priorities), technology and journalism (focussing on technological change and sidelining the social and power relations of technology, and pushing the new and fast over the old and slow, prematurely heralding the demise of journalism), and culture and journalism (through cultural studies research into journalism, producing a fundamental ambivalence about journalism's focus on objectivity, facts, and reality and overemphasising alternative and unusual over mainstream exponents of journalism). This is sub-disciplinary nearsightedness, Barbie suggests.

This matters because this nearsightedness is paralleled by a geographic nearsightedness: journalism research contributes a global picture which is often ignored by communication research, and modifies either/or positions that engage in counterproductive regional myopia and privileges the haves over the have-nots. We must move beyond this, and not lose sight of the variances that also exist in the global regions often positioned in opposition against one another. Journalism provides a fruitful starting point for this as it can show how necessarily divergent the ground for communication must continue to be. Today's multiple modes of journalistic practice remind us of how diverse our field must remain.

The question is whether we can afford to leave journalism as a sideshow - can we not do better? Journalism today exists in multiple situations of contingency, with no clear sense of trajectory, compromised by a wide variety of problem factors. We need to recognise that communication has at its core and at its origins multiple forms of journalism, and journalism must be repositioned in the service of communication. Journalism is a platform for thinking about what communication is - it modifies conceptual and geographic foundationalism; it exists in some form everywhere in the world where communication is active, and we need to emphasise the importanceof these multiple grounds; journalism highlights diversity, discontinuity, noise, tentativeness, multiple universalisms, fluidity, and globalising influences. Communication needs to find a better way of navigating its differences, rather than backgrounding them like journalism has been; bringing journalism back to the fold is a basis for a wider repositioning, for examining journalism as a field without a centre. The relationship between journalism and communication was once a given - to reinstate this may mean developing a new understanding of communication itself.

(Hm - sorry, but there's simply a lot I can't agree with in this presentation. Are we talking about journalism as practice or journalism studies here - or about journalism education? Isn't the characterisation of political, technological, and cultural views on journalism just as much a caricature of the actual research in these fields as the very sub-disciplinary nearsightedness that Barbie decries here? Isn't this an utterly romantic view of journalism, both in its practical and its scholarly forms? Isn't the problem with journalism studies today that - like quite a few journalists - part of it still clings to a doctrine of exceptionalism which insists that journalism is limited to what professional journalists do, even though there are no reliable criteria for who is and who isn't a professional journalist?)

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