Professional Journalism: Can “Everyone” Become a Journalist?

  • Ky Soklim
  • May 3, 2021 4:33 AM

The explosive growth of social media has also seen the number of online journalists in Cambodia increase rapidly, but are they abiding by the ethics and values of professional journalists?

The very first newspaper was created in Europe somewhere during the year of 1600s. Fast forward a couple of centuries later, in Cambodia, the first print Khmer language newspaper was born in 1936. Prior to this date, the newspapers in Cambodia catered to French-language speakers due to France’s colonial rule over Cambodian that spanned from 1863 until 1953.

During the last decade, with the saturated influence of social media and especially Facebook, plenty of questions have been raised regarding citizen journalism—often those with a smartphone.

Perhaps we should begin with a definition. What is journalism? Put simply, journalism is a tool that is used to obtain and publish information. Journalists are people who research, interview and do reporting before they publish.

Because of the established rules and ethics of professional journalism, training—whether through an education institution or through work experience among professionals—is necessary. The value of journalism hinges on public trust and those who fail to observe the key tenets of journalism risk jeopardizing that hard-earned trust, which is what makes training so important. It doesn’t matter if that training is in the classroom or the newsroom or both, but an understanding of the code of ethics that journalists must abide by is crucial.

This is why journalism is a profession and I do not believe that everyone with a smartphone and a social media account should be counted as a member of that profession. Of course, anyone can become a journalist, but simply claiming to be one does not in fact make you one. There are many paths to becoming a journalist and not all revolve around expensive higher educations—although this has increasingly become necessary in many parts of the world. To some extent, experience outweighs studies and often someone who has worked in journalism for years will have a better understanding of how to cover a story than someone fresh out of university.

So again, while journalism remains accessible as a career choice in Cambodia, should we consider Facebook users as journalists or not?

Normally, Facebook users, bloggers or citizen journalists are simply exercising their right to free speech, which is of course to be encouraged, but I would hesitate to call them journalists. Have they gone through any training or education? Have they worked with experienced professionals? Are they legally registered as both a media outlet and a business or NGO? If not, then we should maintain there are differences between citizen journalists and professionals.

But then why do citizen journalists exist and what do they achieve?

While it’s important to keep in mind that citizen journalists may lack the skills or values necessary for professional journalists, they can play a role in uncovering stories that could aid journalists in their reporting. People within a community will be the ones who understand it best and therefore the insights of citizen journalists should not be overlooked, although their methodology of simply livestreaming their reports—often with little to no research beforehand—is something that should be discouraged in the fight against misinformation.

There could be a way for citizen journalists and professional journalists to collaborate and exchange skills, but beyond that all citizens should be free to speak out, to write their thoughts and feelings and to challenge ideas or call out injustices. These are your rights and you should use them, but simply doing this does not make you a journalist.

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