The de-professionalization of journalism in the new media ecosystem


Our work evaluates the results from a survey of students and local press professionals in Portugal's Central region, to consider the ongoing process of de-professionalization in the field of journalism, the loss of its vital boundaries and the blurring of its core values.

More than a decade ago, there were already signs that the convergence of platforms would have an impact on journalism, and the industry's reaction oscillated between alarm and euphoria, since where some saw risk, others saw opportunity.

Today, part of a broader movement for the general dissolution of bonds that affects entire work fields, there are already many operators in the media who do not recognize special or added legitimacy to the profession of journalist, and sometimes aren't even able to identify the difference between their products and other types of content.

Based on a survey of more than 100 journalists and 102 communication students, we reflect on this phenomenon, looking for its connection to a broader movement of precariousness, disenfranchisement and social atomization that runs through all economic, social, cultural and spiritual sectors of the contemporary world.

The results reveal that half or more professionals do not recognize the usefulness of having a professional certificate to operate in the production of news and would easily characterize as “journalistic” products created by their audiences or by non-professional agents.

The professionalization of journalists was a process that emerged slowly through the 19th century, following the industrial model of journalism. David Mindich shows how this process was accompanied by the creation of the language and structures of journalistic expression, namely the lead, the inverted pyramid and the ideology of objectivity; Tuchman and Gitlin explain it as a “strategic ritual” designed to confirm the limits of the field; Schudson relates it to the history of the press; and Bourdieu explains the mechanisms of formation, maintenance and dissolution of the fields, including professional fields.

A century after the conquests that gave rise to the Western model of journalism (Hanitzsch), are we witnessing the final de-professionalization of the class? If it is occurring, is it part of a broader movement, accompanying the apparent dissolution of the industrial model of journalism, the transition to a post-industrial society characterized by outsourcing, the gig economy, the disenfranchising of individuals from public space and public causes?

The results of our survey on students and media professionals, whose subject was the practice of journalism, business models and working conditions, confirm the dissolution of borders between journalism and other fields, already accepted in certain sectors. As Bourdieu has shown, a field is structurally characterized by its borders, by what distinguishes it from others. When the latter disappear, the former is destroyed.

Quality independent journalism is consubstantial to liberal democracies. Insufficient awareness and understanding on the importance of verifiable, independent and curated information might be in the root of the problem our survey identifies. The premise that journalists will continue to act as mediators between the people, power, and deliberation in democratic societies is far from granted.