Difference between Journalist and Reporter
Gorge Snell, a commentator for the US media, once commented that journalism is not a commodity while reporting is. He probably hit the nail on the head. With a plethora of websites now present all over the Internet, and each competing with the other to be the first one to release the ‘scoop’, the internet is all about ‘reporting.’ Most people are not interested in paying for the news reports they get, so Internet has now become the ‘right place’ for reporting.
TV and Radio, too, are the very first choices for people whenever there is a development anywhere in the world. Whether it is a natural disaster, an airplane crash, or an act of terrorism, these are the media of choice the general public would turn to. Twitter is fast coming up as a medium for transmitting ‘Breaking News’, and many celebrities and VIPs resort to Twitter whenever they want to make something instantaneously public. Facebook status is another medium where updates are posted. Interestingly, the traditional printed media, like newspapers and magazines, are now lacking behind in ‘reporting’ as by the time they bring out ‘news reports’ they are already ‘old’.
Thus, we see that the Reporter is the person who reports on an event taking place anywhere in the world. He/she does not add their opinion or analysis to the report. Journalism, however, unlike reporting, would involve getting ‘under’, or ‘beneath’, the news. It can involve steps like investigation, analysis, and well thought out commentary or opinion. A journalist goes through all these steps when he writes a piece. In the case of an airplane incident, the journalist would go a few steps further than just reporting what happened. He would investigate the history of crashes for that airline or aircraft model, and talk about the maintenance issues, etc. 1
Journalism, therefore, is a very broad term. It includes all the people working in that field. In the news media, besides the reporters, there is a myriad of other work functions that are involved in the dissemination of news related information. Editors, TV anchors, reporters, and photographers are all included in journalism. In simple terms, we can safely say that Journalism is the universal term, while Reporting would form a subset of this universe. Thus, reporting, by this definition, is certainly a part of Journalism.
Normally Reporters deliver the news, and may also be presenters on Television. It is possible that a Journalist may act as a Reporter as well, but normally Reporters do not act as Journalists. A reporter would provide news to the Journalist, who would then analyze it, investigate it, and either give it to the reporter to present it, or, in some cases, might present it himself. In practice, we can see that on the news media, many journalists are also reporters as they have their own investigative, opinion, or analysis oriented TV programs, but reporters do not act as Journalists. Anderson Cooper, Christiana Amanpour, and Wolf Blitzer working for CNN are all very good examples of Journalists. 2
Reporting and Commentary
We see that commentary by journalists involves investigation, analysis, and opinions. Journalists who write or do the commentary are liable for what they say, and must adhere to rules of journalism ethics. They are literally required to do this almost daily. It is logical because, while lots of events are taking place around the world every day, what has been said about the event and its background is of paramount importance. Over time, listeners and viewers tend to develop a certain trust in the journalist of their liking, and he/she can have a great impact on the way they understand the events happening locally, regionally, nationally, or around the globe. Different Journalists would apply different standards of excellence when it comes to applying journalistic ethics and, thus, the public needs to be aware of this difference as well.
Another way to look at this subject is to divide the news media into two sections: news and opinions. News would be related to Reporters, and Opinion would be related to Journalists. Interestingly, when Journalists conducts a TV or radio program, they invite guests to contribute their opinion and analysis as well. The choice of whom to invite also sometimes reflects their own opinions and preferences, however, it is believed that they do so to the best of the ability while trying to follow journalistic ethics.
Different Journalists follow different standards. In the case of Reporters, they also must balance reporting sometimes. If an event that takes place requires stories or versions of two opposing sides to be presented, he could do that. This would bring out how two different sides perceive the same event. A columnist who is a Journalist needs to add some color to what news item he is referring to, or analyzing, from a distinct point of view which belongs to him. The columnist can also present both sides of the story but in practice, most columnist would tend to tilt towards one point of view more than the other.
The columnists, of course, write about the news once it has already been reported because they give a well-thought, reflective perspective of the issue at hand. As far as their opinion is concerned, that is the very purpose they write the column. Otherwise, without an opinion, it would, again, remain just a news report with no perspective at all. Interestingly, when many Journalists voice their opinions, they are considered ‘biased’ by some people. However, they are not necessarily biased. It is a part of their job. They are supposed to represent their point of view, whichever side it is on.
Fox News has a certain point of view, and many of the Journalists representing it reflect that point of view. Other TV channels have another class of Journalists working for them who would have a different point of view. They are not simply reporters, and that is why they have an opinion on every news item that they consider relevant. They put it forward, along with their perspective of looking at events. It is quite natural that different Journalists would have different views on abortion, sexual orientation, and other such matters, and as journalists, they are free to express those while commenting on these subjects. There come many times that the viewers feel that a news channel has some ax to grind, and that is why they are tilting towards a certain party. It is just a matter of opinion and how they see things from their perspective. This is simply Journalism and it is bound to be different from reporting. 3
The columnist, or Journalist, are, of course, governed by the same set of rules as the Reporters when it comes to basing their stories on verified facts. The columnist must build on facts as they appear in the story. He can voice his opinion, but he cannot, and should not, play around with facts and figures, because they represent the reality of the situation, or event, and the entire opinion and analysis are built upon these are considered as the basis. Even if a columnist is quoting some other person, the data about this quote must be verified first to ascertain its authenticity. In case some errors are made, the columnist must not feel shy about retracting what he said and correct the information that was presented wrongly.
While there are universal standards that the columnists, and other Journalists voicing their opinion, which need to be followed, each news media outlet might have its own set of rules and standards set for their Journalist which need to be followed by their staff and all the Journalists who work at these media outlets. A Journalistic inquiry that is appropriate must be followed while remaining within the bounds of decency. For this reason, the Journalists do not have unlimited freedom to say or write whatever they want.
Over time, colonists and Journalists on Television, and other media, develop a certain fan following and, thus, the readers and the viewers tend to develop a personal relationship with them. At the core of it, is their ability to voice their own opinion and the opinion of those who follow them, which usually coincides in some ways to them. Even if it does not, the viewers and the readers trust and value their opinion, and are glad to be guided by it in developing their own perspective of the matters being voiced or discussed. 4
Thus, we see that, while factual accuracy and factual verification is at the core of both reporting and Journalism, there is a great amount of space available in Journalism to express one’s opinion which represents a certain side to different issues. However, keeping well in mind that there are bounds in terms of decency and requirement of an appropriate journalistic inquiry, which would guide and limit the Journalist’s writing, and TV or Radio presentations. The Reporters also are bound by standards of decency and are better off showing, or presenting, both sides of the story, if two versions of the same event seem to exist.
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1 Greenslade, R. (2009). Reporting is different from journalism, and it's the latter we need to protect. The Guardian.
2 Difference Between A Journalist And A Reporter. (2016). Hosbeg.
3 Hendrich, (2013). The difference between reporting and commentary. The Collegian.
4 Duffy. (2009). Difference between a reporter and a columnist explained! Matt J. Duffy.