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Journalism is the discipline of writing about events that are of interest to people. Journalism, especially in newspapers, is also regarded by many as the "first rough draft of history" [1] because journalists produce news articles to tight deadlines. This affects how readers may perceive those events in the immediate aftermath.

Journalists work under pressure to meet their deadlines and be first to produce their stories. Before publication or dissemination of news articles, news media organizations edit and proofread their reports several times. In doing this, they adhere to their organization's standards of accuracy, quality, and style. Many news organizations claim proud traditions of holding government officials and institutions accountable to the public, while media critics have raised questions about holding the press itself accountable.

Digitalization and the influx of the Internet pose major challenges for traditional journalistic professional cultures in most countries. The concept of participatory or citizen journalism proposes that amateur reporters can actually produce stories inside or outside professional media outlets, ending the information production monopoly of the press.


The history of journalism can be told largely in terms of the convergence of modern forces of politics, economics, technology, and culture. Although political and economic information certainly existed, there was no journalism to speak of in the ancient or medieval worlds and news of momentous events like wars, disasters and the death of kings was often disseminated verbally through storytelling. In fact, the phrase modern journalism is largely redundant, since there was no significant journalism before the political, economic, technological, cultural and other changes which formed the modern world.

Politically, the rise of journalism, newspapers and public affairs reporting, accompanied the rise of modern nation states, civil societies and republican and democratic forms of government, beginning in the late eighteenth century. (Starr, 2001; Habermas, 19) Freedom of the press was one of the most important civil liberties to arise during that period, and is usually one of the first targets when autocratic and dictatorial governments arise.

Economically, newspapers, magazines, journals and all forms of broadcast and electronic media were enabled by the growth of large bourgeois or middle class audiences and the spread of wealth and literacy and the growth of both mass and niche market for publications.

Technologically, journalism (especially in the United States, Britain and France) followed in the wake of the development of moveable type and the printing press by Gutenberg around 1439. Printing and various forms of lithography were invented some time previously, probably in China or Korea. Gutenberg's press technology (and the term, press) was largely modeled after existing wine and olive presses. Broadsides were among the earliest products of print journalism, and in the colonial U.S. were often limited to news of shipping, trade and transportation.

Most important in facilitating modern newspaper journalism were the technologies of the Mergenthaler linotype machine, the Hoe rotary printing press and the typewriter, telegraph and telephone, all in the late 19th century. These technologies, combined with increasingly cheap and available newsprint and train travel, and innovations in business organization enabled entrepreneurs like William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer to establish the largest mass circulation daily newspapers of the time, with press runs in excess of a million copies.

The hegemony of mass circulation newspapers only lasted for a couple of decades, however. Commercial radio became a reality in the late 1920s and by the late 1930's and 1940s, radio news became a factor in journalism, as the iconic broadcast from the site of the Hindenburg disaster in 1937 made clear. National radio network news and documentaries were produced by ABC, NBC, CBS and the Mutual Radio Network in the U.S., the BBC in Great Britain, the CBC in Canada and other similar national networks. However, the number of radio stations and the popularity of music and entertainment programming often resulted in serious limits on radio journalism, with many stations doing little more than "rip and read" news, read on the air directly from news wire services.

In the 1950s, television journalism made its debut, in particular, with the coverage of the 1952 Presidential conventions and the Army McCarthy Hearings and NBC's Meet The Press first aired. In the 1960s, news coverage was increasingly in color, and the battlefield reports from Vietnam were said to have an impact on public support. The CBS News broadcast of 60 Minutes first aired, and Walter Cronkite was named the most trusted man in America. More recently, local television news has spawned the "Eyewitness News" phenomenon, on-the-spot location reporting that includes the use of helicopters in some local media markets. In the 1980's, the rise of cable television transmission led to the debut of CNN, the Fox News Network and a host of similar journalistic ventures.

The explosive growth of the internet after 1985 has profoundly affected journalism. As A. J. Liebling once observed, freedom of the press belongs primarily to those who own one, and internet technology has made millions of people potential or actual journalists. Modern forces of economics and technology have combined with political and economic changes to place such freedom in an increasingly broad range of hands, and make press freedom almost universally available in many countries.


A news report intends to answer who, what, when, where, why and how. And it also states the importance and effects of the event or trends. Journalism is practiced through newspapers, television, radio, magazines and, most recently but dominating, the World Wide Web.

There is no such specific subject matter on which journalists have to make news reports on. The subject matter can be anything and everything that they choose. They can write on a wide variety of subjects like politics, economics and business, health and medicine, education, sports, hobbies and recreation, lifestyles, clothing, food, pets, and relationships on the international, national, provincial and local levels. They report on anything that news they think readers would read. Journalists can report for general interest news outlets like newspapers, news magazines and broadcast sources; general circulation specialty publications like trade and hobby magazines or for news publications and outlets with a select group of subscribers.

Journalists are usually expected and required to go out to the scene of a story to gather information for their reports, and often may compose their reports in the field. They also use the telephone, the computer and the internet to gather information. However, more often those reports are written, and they are almost always edited in newsrooms, the offices where journalists and editors work together to prepare news content.

Journalists, with specific beat are expected to cultivate as many sources, people in the subject or area, that they can communicate with, either to explain the details of a story, or to provide leads to other subjects of stories yet to be reported. They are also expected to develop their investigative skills to better research and report stories.

Print journalism

For more information, see: News style.

Print journalism can be split into several categories: newspapers, news magazines, general interest magazines, trade magazines, hobby magazines, newsletters, private publications, online news pages and others. Each genre can have its own requirements for researching and writing reports.

Traditionally news reports are written inverted pyramid style, although this style is used more for straight or hard news reports rather than features. The practice began in the US and the other world followed them. Hard news reports are expected list the most important information first and least at the bottom, so that, if the story must be cut from the last because there is not enough space in the paper for it. Journalists attempts that reports are written with as few words as possible. Feature stories are usually written in a looser style that usually depends on the subject matter of the report, and in general granted more space.

Broadcast Journalism

Radio and TV journalism is often called broadcast journalism. Like their colleagues in print, broadcast journalists report and gather evidence to support everything they say. But these journalists also face unique hurdles because of the form it must take.

The differences are often obvious though seldom stated. Among the differences most often cited by individuals in broadcasting is that television and radio journalism require a high degree of collaboration. For instance, one person, a producer or correspondent may take responsibility for writing a script, but other people handle specific parts of the process. There are "editors" who are responsible for putting the visual images, such as video, photos, graphics, together. There are people who work behind the camera, shooting video of interviews, taking additional pictures to help tell the story, and even recording sound from locations, such as streets, highways, prisons, or any other place that may be relevant.

Broadcast journalism also has its own jargon and specific elements that are required to make something on paper come alive on television or radio. Some examples:

  • "Track" - the script recorded to tape by a correspondent or someone else who reads the words into a microphone.
  • "SOT" - "sound on tape" is a reference to elements recorded in the field, especially through interviews with relevant individuals.
  • "Nat Sound" - refers to sound recorded at any location during the course of producing the broadcast segment. If the story is about restaurants, you may hear the sound of plates, voices in a restaurant, or other similar sounds.
  • "Graphics" - is exactly what it would seem to be: special visual elements that usually feature explanatory information, reinforcing the point made in the script. Graphics are often used to present statistics, headlines from newspapers, or highlighted words from documents.
  • "Cover" - refers to video and images that cover lines in a script. Among the most common examples that may be familiar to anyone who has watched television or listened to a news report on the radio are the pictures and sound used in the course of introducing someone in the story. If the story is about animals and a veterinarian is interviewed, it is possible that viewers could see the doctor treating patients, making house calls, or doing anything they might normally be doing.

In addition to producing a piece or segment for broadcast, the journalists responsible for that story will generally write or contribute to the script used by the anchor to introduce a segment in a news broadcast. Depending upon the size of the broadcast, there could be one or more writers whose sole job it is to write the "show."

Each form of journalism has its own list of required elements. In radio journalists will generally depend on engineers and technical people of various kinds to ensure that they are able to record their track, maintain their equipment in often demanding conditions, and achieve the highest quality sound. Because there are no visuals, the quality of the sound becomes that much more important. There is no way to make up for certain kinds of distortions with visual elements that might otherwise clarify what is being said.

There are additional differences between print and broadcast that have to do with the medium. Broadcast journalists cannot use as many words as their print counterparts. Aside from the fact that they do not have enough time on the air to use them, they must face the obvious: reading, listening, and watching are different things. Viewers or listeners do not follow long sections of "track" extremely well. Only a certain amount of information can be absorbed in this manner.

Another important distinction: broadcast journalists are always pushed by the need to get video or audio. In television news it is impossible to do a segment without interviews. That means that "unnamed sources" or sources that you can talk to but not tape will not help the story.

Because broadcast journalism involves numerous elements, collaboration between various people, along with the need to research and report, it can often take longer. More things may go wrong. And there are also unique ethical and legal concerns. In this era, broadcast journalists, for instance, are able to use technology to pretend they are almost anywhere. Indeed, some reporters have been disciplined for standing in front of a backdrop that suggested they were elsewhere even though they remained in a television studio.

Hidden camera is yet another side of broadcast journalism. Made possible by miniaturization, small cameras allow television journalists to take pictures without others knowing it. Unlike "reality" television, where individuals generally consent to be taped and know that there are cameras everywhere, this form of investigative reporting involves gathering evidence to support a story -- evidence that can not be obtained otherwise. However, in the United States, each state has different rules about privacy -- particularly videotaping people without their knowledge. In some places it is possible. In other jurisdictions, the law requires "two-party" consent, which means that it is illegal to tape someone without their permission.

Broadcast journalism continues to face unique obstacles, ethical, legal, and editorial. But radio and television journalists are no longer at the forefront. All journalists are watching the lines between broadcast and print blur. Some are questioning the very terminology of "broadcast" versus "print." With smaller and better cameras, there is less of a need for people who specialize in working behind them. In radio, it is easier than ever before for reporters to edit their own audio reports as well as handle all their field recording. At the same time, print reporters are being asked to spend more time online as well as on radio or television. Major media companies are under increasing pressure to use the same talent in multiple ways, creating more content at a lower cost. And with video, audio, and print journalism freely available from anywhere on the Internet, there is every reason to expect the nature of journalism itself to change.

What is broadcast journalism? Some would argue that except as history, it may not matter any more.

Internet journalism

Internet journalism is the latest form of journalism emerged after the revolution in Internet and World Wide Web. This is sometimes referred to as cyber journalism or online journalism. This has become the most popular these days due to speed at which news can be disseminated worldwide. It has the profound facility for penetration to anyone with a computer and web browser.

Most print and broadcast media now go into Internet versions. The bulk of Internet journalism has been the extension of existing print and broadcast media. New reports that were set to be released at expected times now can be published as soon as they are written and edited, increasing the deadline pressure. Scoop, what matters for the journalist to compete in their profession, has become less imperative with the introduction of online journalism.

Most news websites are free to their users to see, read or print. Few demand subscription like Wall Street Journal or Time to view their contents. Attempts to start unique web publications, such as Slate and Salon, have met with limited success, in part because they do or did charge subscription fees.

Today, the Internet is seen as a profound challenge and opportunity for journalists and the practice of journalism: non-professional citizen journalists using weblogs, social networking sites like Twitter and other Internet technologies have been touted as a supplement to traditional journalism, and even as a replacement for some areas. Political punditry, reporting about technology and breaking news. Footage from the terrorist attacks in central London on July 7, 2005, was captured on camera phones. Similarly, in 2009, the most prominent photo from the emergency landing of a jetliner in the Hudson River was posted on Twitter by a citizen journalist. Many newspaper websites now include comment features, have blogs run by journalists, and many news organizations actively solicit photos, videos and reports from the general public. Many feel that the Internet and blogs threatens the business model of newspaper journalism and with it the investigative reporting and fact-checking that newspapers engage in. A number of local and city newspapers across the United States have closed in 2009 including the Rocky Mountain News, the Baltimore Examiner and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Whether these closures are due primarily to the recession or due to the Internet has yet to be seen.

Sports journalism

Sports journalism covers athletic competition. This has been the most read news reports after politics. Even in least developed media society, newspapers separate a page for sports news. Thus, it is an integral part of most journalism products. While some critics don't consider sports journalism to be mainstream journalism, the prominence of sports in society has justified the attention of journalists to for reporting the sports events.

This not only includes the events on sports but also the stories behind the sportspersons and political influences on sports.

Science journalism

Science Journalism has come up in the recent days, as the horizon of journalism widens. Here journalists' reporting conveys information on science topics to the public. Science journalists must understand and interpret very detailed, technical and sometimes jargon-laden information and render it into interesting reports that are comprehensible to consumers of news media. This has created in many instances, confusion among the masses. The dispute in the scientific community on certain matters also makes stories blur and useless.

Besides the space in the mainstream news media, journals specifically on scientific discoveries have come up.

Investigative journalism

Not to ignore that most news reports are investigated and written. In most case, feature news stories are investigative. But there has come the concept of a separate investigative journalism, in which journalists investigate and expose unethical, immoral and illegal behaviour by individuals, businesses and government agencies, which are rather complicated, time-consuming and expensive — requiring teams of journalists, months of research, interviews (sometimes repeated interviews) with numerous people, long-distance travel, computers to analyse public-record databases, or use of the company's legal staff to secure documents under freedom of information laws.

Because of its inherently confrontational nature, only a handful of journalists prefer this beat. Journalists have to face financial constraints and interference from various corners. Even the media organisations discourage if the issue would adversely affect the business of its institution. Investigative reporting done poorly can also expose journalists and media organizations to negative reaction. When conducted correctly it can bring the attention of the public and government problems and conditions that the public deem need to be addressed, and can win awards and recognition to the journalists involved and the media outlet that did the reporting.

Entertainment journalism

Entertainment journalism has come up in 20th century when the entertainment became the integral part of people’s life. This is also called celebrity or people journalism, which mostly focuses on the personal lives of people, primarily celebrities, including movie and stage actors, musical artists, models and photographers, other notable people in the entertainment industry.

This beat of journalism also covers the dramas, night shows, film making, beauty pageants, dance parties etc. etc. Entertainment journalism differs from feature writing.

'Convergence Journalism'

An emerging form of journalism, which combines different forms of journalism, such as print, photographic and video, into one piece or group of pieces. Convergence Journalism can be found in the likes of CNN and many other news sites. The Washington Post has a notable amount of such.

Society and journalism

There have been much debate that journalism can play for transformation of societal practices and behaviours. But has it achieved or not is yet to be admitted or realised.

In beginning of the modern journalim, precisely in 1920s, writer Walter Lippmann and American philosopher John Dewey debated in several events over the role of journalism in a democracy. Their differing philosophies still characterize a debate and continues to date at a time we say we entered the most advanced age of modernisation.

Lippmann had stressed that journalism was the mediator between the public and the policiy makers. He called journalims, at times, a translator between these two section of people and the journalist became the middleperson. As the policy makers, to say it exactly the newsmakers, speak, journalists listen and record the information, distill it, and pass it to the public for their consumption.

The motive of the jouranlsit behind this was that the public was not in a position to deconstruct a growing and complex flurry of information present in modern society, and so an intermediary was needed to filter news for the masses. Lippman put it this way: The public is not smart enough to understand complicated, political issues. Furthermore, the public was too consumed with their daily lives to care about complex public policy. Therefore the public needed someone to interpret the decisions or concerns of the elite to make the information plain and simple. That was the role of journalists. Lippmann believed that the public would affect the decision making of the elite with their vote. In the meantime, the elite (i.e. politicians, policy makers, bureaucrats, scientists, etc.) would keep the business of power running. In Lippman's world, the journalist's role was to inform the public of what the elites were doing. It was also to act as a watchdog over the elites as the public had the final say with their votes. Effectively that kept the public at the bottom of the power chain, catching the flow of information that is handed down from experts/elites.

Dewey, on the other hand, believed the public was not only capable of understanding the issues created or responded to by the elite, it was in the public forum that decisions should be made after discussion and debate. When issues were thoroughly vetted, then the best ideas would bubble to the surface. Dewey believed journalists not only had to inform the public, but should report on issues differently than simply passing on information. In Dewey's world, a journalist's role changed. Dewey believed that journalists should take in the information, then weigh the consequences of the policies being enacted by the elites on the public. Over time, his idea has been implemented in various degrees, and is more commonly known as "community journalism."

This concept of Community Journalism is at the center of new developments in journalism. In this new paradigm, journalists are able to engage citizens and the experts/elites in the proposition and generation of content. It's important to note that while there is an assumption of equality, Dewey still celebrates expertise. Dewey believes the shared knowledge of many is far superior to a single individual's knowledge. Experts and scholars are welcome in Dewey's framework, but there is not the hierarchical structure present in Lippman's understanding of journalism and society. According to Dewey, conversation, debate, and dialogue lie at the heart of a democracy.

While Lippman's journalistic philosophy might be more acceptable to government leaders, Dewey's approach is a better descriptor of how many journalists see their role in society, and, in turn, how much of society expects journalists to function. Americans, for example, may criticize some of the excesses committed by journalists, but they tend to expect journalists to serve as watchdogs on government, businesses and other actors, enabling people to make informed decisions on the issues of the time.

The Elements of Journalism

According to The Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosensteil, there are nine elements of journalism. In order for a journalist to fulfill their duty of providing the people with the information they need to be free and self-governing, they must follow these guidelines:

  1. Journalism's first obligation is to the truth.
  2. Its first loyalty is to the citizens.
  3. Its essence is discipline of verification.
  4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.
  5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power.
  6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.
  7. It must strive to make the significant, interesting, and relevant.
  8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.
  9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.

Professional and ethical standards

Since the development of professional journalism at the beginning of the 20th Century, journalists have been expected to follow a stringent code of journalistic conduct that requires them to, among other things:

  • Use original sources of information, including interviews with people directly involved in a story, original documents and other direct sources of information, whenever possible, and cite the sources of this information in reports;
  • Fully attribute information gathered from other published sources, should original sources not be available (to not do so is considered plagiarism; some newspapers also note when an article uses information from previous reports);
  • Use multiple original sources of information, especially if the subject of the report is controversial;
  • Check every fact reported;
  • Find and report every side of a story possible;
  • Report without bias, illustrating many aspects of a conflict rather than siding with one;
  • Approach researching and reporting a story with a balance between objectivity and skepticism.
  • Use careful judgment when organizing and reporting information.
  • Be careful about granting confidentiality to sources (news organizations usually have specific rules that journalists must follow concerning grants of confidentiality);
  • Decline gifts or favors from any subject of a report, and avoid even the appearance of being influenced;
  • Abstain from reporting or otherwise participating in the research and writing about a subject in which the journalist has a personal stake or bias that cannot be set aside.

This was in stark contrast to the media climate prior to the 20th Century, where the media market was dominated by smaller newspapers and pamphleteers who usually had an overt and often radical agenda, with no presumpton of balance or objectivity. E.g., see (1).

Recognition of excellence in journalism

There are several professional organizations, universities and foundations that recognize excellence in journalism. The Pulitzer Prize, administered by Columbia University in New York City, is awarded to newspapers, magazines and broadcast media for excellence in various kinds of journalism. The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism gives the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards for excellence in radio and television journalism, and the Scripps Howard Foundation gives the National Journalism Awards in 17 categories. The Society of Professional Journalists gives the Sigma Delta Chi Award for journalism excellence. In the television industry, the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences gives awards for excellence in television journalism.

Failing to uphold standards

Such a code of conduct can, in the real world, be difficult to uphold consistently. Journalists who believe they are being fair or objective may give biased accounts -- by reporting selectively, trusting too much to anecdote, or giving a partial explanation of actions. (See Media bias.) Even in routine reporting, bias can creep into a story through a reporter's choice of facts to summarize, or through failure to check enough sources, hear and report dissenting voices, or seek fresh perspectives.

As much as reporters try to set aside their prejudices, they may simply be unaware of them. Young reporters may be blind to issues affecting the elderly. A 20-year veteran of the "police beat" may be deaf to rumors of departmental corruption. Publications marketed to affluent suburbanites may ignore urban problems. And, of course, naive or unwary reporters and editors alike may fall prey to public relations, propaganda or disinformation.

News organizations provide editors, producers or news directors whose job is to check reporters' work at various stages. But editors can get tired, lazy, complacent or biased. An editor may be blind to a favorite reporter's omissions, prejudices or fabrications. (See Jayson Blair.) Provincial editors also may be ill-equipped to weigh the perspective (or check the facts of) a correspondent reporting from a distant city or foreign country. (See News management.)

A news organization's budget inevitably reflects decision-making about what news to cover, for what audience, and in what depth. Those decisions may reflect conscious or unconscious bias. When budgets are cut, editors may sacrifice reporters in distant news bureaus, reduce the number of staff assigned to low-income areas, or wipe entire communities from the publication's zone of interest.

Publishers, owners and other corporate executives, especially advertising sales executives, can try to use their powers over journalists to influence how news is reported and published. Journalists usually rely on top management to create and maintain a "firewall" between the news and other departments in a news organization to prevent undue influence on the news department. One journalism magazine, Columbia Journalism Review, has made it a practice to reveal examples of executives who try to influence news coverage, of executives who do not abuse their powers over journalists, and of journalists who resist such pressures.

In medicine, the media is more likely to cover studies that report positive results.[2]

Reporting versus editorializing

Generally, publishers and consumers of journalism draw a distinction between reporting — "just the facts" — and opinion writing, often by restricting opinion columns to the editorial page and its facing or "op-ed" (opposite the editorials) page. Unsigned editorials are traditionally the official opinions of the paper's editorial board, while op-ed pages may be a mixture of syndicated columns and other contributions, frequently with some attempt to balance the voices across some political or social spectrum. The politics of newspapers and television news networks in the United States and the United Kingdom tend to be opposite: in the U.S., television news networks like Fox News and MSNBC are split along ideological lines, and newspapers try to be more balanced. Meanwhile, in Britain, television news tries to remain neutral while newspapers tend to hold a political line with the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and (London) Times representing the political right-wing, and The Guardian and The Independent on the left-of-centre.

The distinction between reporting and opinion can break down. Complex stories often require summarizing and interpretation of facts, especially if there is limited time or space for a story. Stories involving great amounts of interpretation are often labelled "news analysis," but still run in a paper's news columns. The limited time for each story in a broadcast report rarely allows for such distinctions.

Ambush journalism

Ambush journalism refers to aggressive tactics practiced by journalists to suddenly confront with questions people who otherwise do not wish to speak to a journalist. The practice has particularly been applied by television journalists, such as those on the CBS-TV news show 60 Minutes and by Geraldo Rivera, currently on the Fox News cable channel, and by hundreds of American local television reporters conducting investigations.

The practice has been sharply criticized by journalists and others as being highly unethical and sensational, while others defend it as the only way to attempt to provide those subject to it an opportunity to comment for a report. Ambush journalism has not been ruled illegal in the United States, although doing it on private property could open a journalist to being charged with trespassing.

Gotcha journalism

For more information, see: Gotcha journalism.

Gotcha journalism refers to the deliberate manipulation of the presentation of facts in a report in order to portray a person or organization in a particular way that varies from an accurate portrayal based on balanced review of the facts available. In particular it is applied to broadcast journalism, where the story, images and interviews are tailored to create a particular impression of the subject matter.

It is considered highly unethical to engage in gotcha journalism. Many subjects of reporting have claimed to have been subjected to it, and some media outlets are guilty of deliberately biased reporting.

Legal status

For more information, see: Freedom of the press.

Journalists around the world often write about the governments in their nations, and those governments have widely varying policies and practices towards journalists, which control what they can research and write, and what press organizations can publish. Many Western governments guarantee the freedom of the press, and do relatively little to restrict press rights and freedoms, while other nations severely restrict what journalists can research and/or publish.

Journalists in many nations have enjoyed some privileges not enjoyed by members of the general publlic, including better access to public events, crime scenes and press conferences, and to extended interviews with public officials, celebrities and others in the public eye. These privileges are available because of the perceived power of the press to turn public opinion for or against governments, their officials and policies, as well as the perception that the press often represents their consumers. These privileges extend from the legal rights of journalists but are not guaranteed by those rights. Sometimes government officials may attempt to punish individual journalists who irk them by denying them some of these privileges extended to other journalists.

Nations or jurisdictions that formally license journalists may confer special privileges and responsibilities along with those licenses, but in the United States of America the tradition of an independent press has avoided any imposition of government-controlled examinations or licensing. Some of the states have explicit shield laws that protect journalists from some forms of government inquiry, but those statutes' definitions of "journalist" were often based on access to printing presses and broadcast towers. A national shield law has been proposed.

In some nations, journalists are directly employed, controlled or censored by their governments. In other nations, governments who may claim to guarantee press rights actually intimidate journalists with threats of arrest, destruction or seizure of property (especially the means of production and dissemination of news content), torture or murder.

Journalists who elect to cover conflicts, whether wars between nations or insurgencies within nations, often give up expectation to protection by government, if not giving up their rights to protection by government. Journalists who are captured or detained during a conflict are expected to be treated as civilians and to be released to their national government.

Rights of journalists versus those of private citizens and organizations

Journalists enjoy similar powers and privileges as private citizens and organizations. The power of journalists over private citizens is limited by the citizen's rights to privacy. Many who seek favorable representation in the press (celebrities, for example) do grant journalists greater access than others enjoy. The right to privacy of a private citizen may be reduced or lost if the citizen is thrust into the public eye, either by their own actions or because they are involved in a public event or incident.

Citizens and private organizations can refuse to deal with some or all journalists; the powers the press enjoy in many nations often make this tactic ineffective or counter-productive.

Citizens in most nations also enjoy the right against being libeled or defamed by journalists, and citizens can bring suit against journalists who they claim have published damaging untruths about them with malicious disregard for the truth. Libel or defamation lawsuits can also become conflicts between the journalists' rights to publish versus the private citizen's right to privacy. Some journalists have claimed lawsuits brought against them and news organizations — or even the threat of such a lawsuit — were intended to stifle their voices with the threat of expensive legal proceedings, even if plaintiffs cannot prove their cases. This is referred to as the Chilling effect.

In many nations, journalists and news organizations must function under similar threat of retaliation from private individuals or organizations as from governments. Criminals and criminal organizations, political parties, some zealous religious organizations, and even mobs of people have been known to punish journalists who speak or write about them in ways they do not like. Punishments can include threats, physical damage to property, assault, torture and murder.

Right to protect confidentiality of sources

Journalists' interaction with sources sometimes involves confidentiality, an extension of freedom of the press giving journalists a legal protection to keep the identity of a source private even when demanded by police or prosecutors; withholding sources can land journalists in contempt of court, or jailtime.

The scope of rights granted journalists varies from nation to nation; in the United Kingdom, for example, the government has had more legal rights to protect what it considers sensitive information, and to force journalists to reveal the sources of leaked information, than the United States. Other nations, particularly Zimbabwe and the People's Republic of China, have a reputation of persecuting journalists, both domestic and foreign.

In the United States of America, there has never been a right to protect sources in federal court. Some states provide varying degrees of such protection. However, federal courts will refuse to force journalists to reveal sources, unless the information the court seeks is highly relevant to the case, and there's no other way to get it. Journalists, like all citizens, who refuse to testify even when ordered to can be found in contempt of court and fined or jailed.

Right of access to government information

Like sources, journalists depend on the rights granted by government to the public and, by extension, to the press, for access to information held by the government. These rights also vary from nation to nation (see Freedom of information legislation) and, in the United States, from state to state. Some states have more open policies for making information available, and some states have acted in the last decade to broaden those rights. New Jersey, for example, has updated and broadened its Sunshine Law to better define what kinds of government documents can be withheld from public inquiry.

In the United States, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) guarantees journalists the right to obtain copies of government documents, although the government has the right to redact, or black out, information from documents in those copies that FOIA allows them to withhold. Other federal legislation also controls access to information (see Freedom of information in the United States). Canada, the European Union, many European nations including the United Kingdom and other countries around the world have similar legislation.


  1. This phrase is widely used by journalists. It is often attributed to Philip Graham, former publisher of the Washington Post. At the time of his death, in August, 1963, a number of reporters and editors recalled Graham saying at a meeting: "I am insatiably curious about the state of our world. I revel in the recitation of the daily and weekly grist of journalism…. So let us drudge on about our inescapably impossible task of providing every week a first rough draft of a history that will never be completed about a world we can never understand."
  2. Koren G, Klein N (October 1991). "Bias against negative studies in newspaper reports of medical research". JAMA 266 (13): 1824–6. PMID 1890712[e]