Journalism Terms & Concepts

There are distinct differences – productive purposes as well as drawbacks – among the terms “Media,” “Journalism,” “Commentary, Punditry, Bloggers” and “Social Media.” Knowing and using all of them is essential to navigating today’s communication/connectivity environment.

Media are the various tools, vehicles, and ever-evolving technologies used to communicate, connect, and get our messages and shared experiences out to others. The term media encompasses:

print, broadcast, and online journalism;

 commentary/punditry/blogging;

social media 

also the arts, such as literature, theatre, music, dance and visual arts.

So all journalism, commentary, blogging, Facebook and Twitter technically can be called “media.” But not all media coverage or articles are journalism – and different professional standards and rules of engagement apply in each. It’s good to note that in strictest terms, media are plural, meaning multiple vehicles; the singular is medium.

Journalism is generally original-source, paid content researched, reported, and vetted under the stated standards of a professional news organization. As with all sound scholarship, journalistic content should be trackable and substantiated via such disciplines as first-hand accounts, legal and public documents, and corroboration by multiple and contemporaneous sources (eg. when reported events took place in the past). Where possible, sources are quoted on the record. However, much important investigative reporting–in the earlier stages on stories involving the exposure of questionable or illegal practices, for example–requires that sources be granted confidentiality to provide their information. Protecting such sources’ anonymity is a matter of professional ethics for journalists, and a reputable journalistic news organization has clearly stated policies for how and when the use of confidential sources is necessary and what corroboration is required.

Fourth Estate. The role of a free and independent press is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution as a core function of democracy. In this capacity, journalism has long been known as the Fourth Estate, an investigative check on all forms of governmental and other kinds of power. Journalistic news outlets may be print or online newspapers, NPR and PBS affiliates, blogs, news magazines, and now increasingly long-form non-fiction literature authored by professional journalists.

Journalists are gatherers, analyzers and presenters of news and issues of the day who are committed to the practices and principles of the profession of journalism. They may be either affiliated with a news organization whose specific standards and practices they are committed to follow, or freelancers. When following the work of freelance journalists or (being interviewed by them) it’s always a good idea to actively explore, ask about, and know their professional credentials; operating ground-rules and assumptions; and what organizations, parties, or affiliations they represent or report/write for.

Aggregators are organizations that primarily or solely collect and aggregate the published, vetted, paid journalistic content of established news organizations as well as some commentary, punditry and blogs and repackage them as free content on the Internet. The most reliable aggregator content may be found in those that retain the original stories as written in the original paid news outlet that produced them, with the sources fully cited (vs aggregators that cut-and-paste content from multiple news outlet stories in a new story that often has different emphasis or ultimate point. Aggregators can be neutral, although at best they are not original-source content and may not always be the most timely sources. Other aggregators collect only those news items from journalistic reports that support a defined bias that’s often clearly reflected in the name of the aggregator. Perhaps the most important thing to consider about following news aggregators, even the best ones, is that quality, reliable, real news is not free – some news organization (most likely a struggling one, in today’s business and advertising environment) must pay for the journalism work represented by every story.

Commentators, Pundits, non-journalist Media Personalities, and Bloggers in print, broadcast, or online media may be either a separate, analytical arm of journalistic news organizations; express and advance the aims of interest groups, causes, and organizations; or operate as completely independent entities.

Trolls are antagonistic online users of media such as Facebook, Twitter and the comment sections on news outlets’ posted stories. Their purpose is to disrupt discussion, create upset and distract commentary onto tangential arguments. They may or may not be the individuals they seem to be; some have even been identified as the result of Russian and other cyber attacks.

 Social Media in simplest terms refers to a vehicle-company such as Facebook and Twitter, used and known most commonly for social communications and connection. But social media now are increasingly also used as a distribution tool for all kinds of content from vetted journalism (from established news organizations via their own and their journalists’ Facebook pages and Twitter feeds); shared content from aggregators, pundits or blogs; and now even Russian trolls. A cautious approach to social media is to follow only established journalistic news outlets or known and preferred others, and to restrict comments and engagement to known individuals.