The Australia Street Archive

In the 1990s while working at the University of Technology, Sydney I was the Director and Co-Producer with Shirley Alexander at the Institute for Interactive Media and Learning (IML) of the Australia Street Archive, which was a collaborative WWW social documentary between UTS and the Australian Museum about the decoration of domestic space and its meaning.

UTS is no longer hosting the websites, and they can be accessed above via the Internet Archive.


In 1996-7 I was the Australian leader (with Paul Bonaventura as the British leader) of the Tumblong project, a collaborative WWW venture between the IML at UTS and the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art at Oxford University, working with cultural institutions in both countries. Tumblong involved the collaborative production of art on the Web about the relationship between the two countries by artists working in the UK and Australia, and was financially supported by the Australia Council for the Arts and the Arts Council of England.

UTS is no longer hosting the website, and it can be accessed above via the Internet Archive.


Brigadistas from Chris Nash on Vimeo.

Brigadistas is a film about the 1985 Southern Cross Brigade to Cuba by a group of Australians and New Zealanders. Brigades to Cuba were effectively an ‘exposure tour’ to various aspects of the Cuban situation, organised by an agency of the Cuban government in partnership with the organising committee from Australia. It is a film about the reaction of left-wingers from those two countries to their experience of “really existing socialism” in Cuba as it was at that time.

It was subsequently screened in the video section of the 1986 Sydney International Film Festival, the 1986 Festival of New Latin-American Cinema in Havana, and the 1987 Rio do Janeiro Film Festival.

Philippines, My Philippines

Philippines my Philippines (1989, Stoney Desert Productions) is a feature length documentary about the situation in the Philippines two years after the notionally democratic Cory Aquino replaced the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the ‘People Power’ revolution of 1986. Touching on the influence and interests of the United States and Australia, it examines the social context and dimensions of the violent conflict between government and big business on one hand and the rural and urban poor (led by the Communist Party of the Philippines and its New People Army) on the other. I was invited to research and make the film by solidarity activists who had seen a previous film, Brigadistas (1985), I had made about Australians in Cuba.

I made Philippines my Philippines because I was interested in the structure and process of social revolutions being attempted in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Under US tutelage, governments in those places were following a strategy of ‘low intensity conflict’ against popular, broadly socialist uprisings. The scope and sophistication of the organising by the various sections of the broad left in the Philippines was enormously impressive, and the nature of the violence by both sides of the conflict needed to be documented and explored.

Philippines my Philippines is a filmic essay about social and political organisation and violence in an attempted revolution. For the great majority of Filipinos, life is not much different nearly three decades since the film was made, although the personalities and fortunes of the main political forces have waxed and waned in the meantime. The film captures an approach to ‘people’s struggle’ which retains of enduring relevance today.


Chris Nash
Maree Delofski
Chris Nash
Director of Photography
John Whitteron
Ruth Cullen
Bronwyn Murphy

Izzy Stone, James Carey and beyond: Universities in the New Journalistic Order

This paper was delivered to the Crossing Boundaries 2011 Conference, at the University of California, Berkeley, March 17–18, 2011.


Izzy Stone for many internet-based journalists constitutes the paragon of what an independent, intellectually serious, engaged journalism could be, but he was self-taught, a junior college drop-out and despised all but a few of his teachers (to be fair, he also despised most journalists). The eminent journalism educator and media scholar James Carey thought that journalists were very poor at explaining the ‘why’ of a story, but that universities were responsible for the taming of the profession, and he reserved particular scorn for the claim that journalism was a subset of communication studies.

The professional education of journalists seems to have moved irreversibly into the university domain, and in the US many of the new not-for-profit investigative journalism organizations are seeking university affiliation. Nonetheless, the status of journalism within universities remains fraught, and for many journalists and scholars it is a craft and not a discipline. Many scholars of journalism treat it as an object of study within their own disciplines, eg sociology, history, political communication, literary and cultural studies, and while this contributes valuable knowledge, journalism needs to constitute itself as a discipline in its own terms to exist fully within the academy as a contributor to intellectual debate.

What does it mean for journalism to be a fully-fledged discipline it its own right, to embrace scholarly self-examination and reflexive professional practice, and what are the implications for other disciplines? This paper engages with Stone’s and Carey’s critiques and practices, and through them identifies three key dimensions of journalism that need to be addressed and analysed for it to develop as a discipline:

  • the status of empirical ‘facts’
  • the significance of timeliness and temporality
  • the intrinsic presence of power relations in all journalism production

This paper addresses the question of what it is that journalism can contribute to the academy. If one takes one of the traditional professions such as medicine, the institutions that are responsible for educating and inducting new members into its ranks – the universities – are also the places where the best and most accomplished members of the profession can be found at work, and where the disciplinary exploration and innovation that define its emerging frontiers are carried out. In that case the boundary that exists between the profession and the university-based discipline is a thoroughly porous and constructive one, and it exists for the mutual benefit of the two wings of this body of knowledge and practice. But one would have to say in looking at our own profession of journalism that by and large, with a small number of notable exceptions, that is not the case at the moment. The reasons are not personal but structural, relating to the nature of a boundary that in many instances presents as a deep fracture.

The characteristics and performance of journalism as a practice, a workforce, an industry, as a political and legal construct, are well canvassed and debated in the scholarly literature of a wide range of disciplines: history, sociology, economics, politics, jurisprudence, literature, criminology, communication studies, cultural studies and media studies to name the main ones. That is to say, journalism can be the object of scholarly scrutiny in a broad range of the humanities and social sciences, and rightly so. Journalism, like all professions, merits and benefits from such scrutiny. What is not at all clear is the inverse proposition: that journalism has the status and characteristics of a scholarly discipline, to offer its own distinctive and rigorous scrutiny as an equal among university-based disciplines, and indeed to engage in reflexive practice as both the subject and object of its own scrutiny.

There are robust arguments to the effect that journalism can not and should not seek to be a scholarly discipline, that the upshot of journalism education moving into the universities has been the taming of the profession, and indeed that journalism is not a profession but a craft, with all the nuances of class and creativity that term connotes. Perhaps, but this paper agrees with Freidson (1996) that as social constructs the characteristics of professions and the processes of professionalisation are best revealed not by essentialist arguments but from a sociological consideration of what exists and what the major stakeholders are doing. The indisputable facts are that journalism education entered the university sector in the early years of the last century in the USA, and although the US tertiary education sector is highly stratified, journalism education occurs across all strata. In my own country Australia, one institution – the University of Queensland – followed suit in 1924, but otherwise until the late 1980s journalism education occurred on the job in apprenticeship mode or in second rank tertiary institutions with no research funding or accountabilities, much as still applies in continental Europe. The so-called binary system of higher education was replaced by a unified system in Australia in 1989, in the UK in the 1990s, and one might suggest that the pressures to follow that trend are probably inexorable for the European system.

Regardless of deep ambivalences and rearguard resistance to those changes in both the traditional and new universities, it is an unavoidable condition of contemporary Australian, American and British academic employment that journalism educators must be research active, which is defined as productive of competitively funded scholarly research, with output into scholarly publications, and the supervision of doctoral students in the discipline. The parameters of scholarship, research and what constitutes doctoral studies have been widened through negotiation, and in Australia at least no longer pose a prohibition against journalism, creative writing, the visual and plastic arts, music performance, and the like. However, this opening constitutes more of a challenge than a solution to the issue of what is a journalist in a university. The threat is that journalists will move to become sociologists, historians, political scientists, and so on – anything but journalists – as they acquire doctoral qualifications and produce the required scholarly outputs of industrialised academia. The alternative, where journalists can be fully functional within the academy as journalists, requires that journalism develop itself as a discipline as well as a profession, just as older professions such as medicine and the law have done, and newer professions like architecture and nursing are doing. The alternative is continuing second-class status within the higher education sector, with everything that implies about funding, opportunity and capacity for self-directed development.

Before commencing the discussion proper of what this might entail, I want to make three observations. Firstly, I am not deploying static, essentialist definitions of ‘profession’ and ‘discipline’: these are dynamic and developing terms for social formations in all their historical and geographic diversity and specificity, and I am asking how we might conceive of incorporating journalism into those formations. Weick’s (1996) reprise of Thompson’s criteria for an adequate theorisation of a discipline is helpful: that it should be relational (rather than essentialist) in its approach, that it should involve abstraction, that the theorisation should generate ‘operational definitions’ for practitioners, and that there should be robust criteria for assessing the efficacy of the theorisation.

Secondly, I am not seeking to constitute professions or disciplines as elite social strata. I agree with Gramsci that “all men (sic) are intellectuals … but not all men have that function in society” (Said, 1993), and would argue that this resonates well with the US First Amendment that links freedom of the press with freedom of belief and speech for all. What disciplinary status offers is the opportunity for rigorous reflexivity in practice among a community of peers in order to constitute an effective accountability to society.

Thirdly, the move of not-for-profit investigative journalism centres into the university sector has gathered pace in the US in the last few years (Birnbauer, 2011). Although this has largely occurred for utilitarian reasons (bolstering the opportunities for funding by foundations) and has been impelled by the rapid decline of investigative work in mainstream media as their business model collapses, it has brought the best of journalistic practice into the ambit of the universities. This presents an opportunity to consider what precisely that might mean for both parties: journalists and universities. The opportunity might slip away, subject to the vagaries of foundation funding, but it does constitute a structural strengthening of the position of journalism vis-à-vis other disciplines, and I suggest that is an opportunity to be taken.

Although these issues are equally pressing in Australia, I want to consider them in the North American context because that is where this seminar is located, and because the US situation is further advanced in the commercial crisis for mainstream media, the institutionalisation of independent media alternatives and in the longevity of journalism education within the university sector. I want to open the discussion by considering the positions of two eminent US journalism professionals: one – Izzy Stone – a practitioner and ‘amateur’ in Edward Said’s sense of loving and embracing his work; and the other – James Carey – a leading scholar of the politics and culture of journalism, and also a lover of its place in a dynamic democracy.

I.F. Stone

Izzy Stone (1907–1989) was one of North America’s most highly regarded journalists of the twentieth century, and has become an icon for what an independent, rigorous journalism might be on the internet in the twenty-first century (Froomkin, 2007). The son of immigrants, he was raised within the intensely Jewish community of Philadelphia by parents who were shopkeepers. His siblings all became journalists and members of the Communist Party, and although he was an outspoken critic of Stalinism from the 1930s, he didn’t embrace anti-Communism when most other left-Liberals did in the late 1930s. Locating himself within the broad, non-affiliated left of US politics, he was extremely well-connected to sources high up in the ‘New Deal’ administration of President Roosevelt and a prominent commentator on radio and in the press (Guttenplan, 2010).

In the 1950s during the McCarthyist persecution of leftists and liberals in the media, the arts and government employment, he became professionally isolated, unemployed and effectively unemployable. To support himself and his family, and continue working as a journalist, in 1953 he launched I.F. Stone’s Weekly with a subscription list of 5,300, which he continued publishing for nineteen years before retiring from regular reporting to write books in 1971. The Weekly’s circulation in 1971 was 70,000, and by then Stone had recovered his iconic status as an independent intellectual, writer and journalist. The hallmark of his work was rigorous and extensive documentary research, incisive analysis and a strong editorial interpretation of the meaning of the information he provided. For contemporary bloggers and ‘citizen journalists’, he also embodies success for the entrepreneurial spirit of fighting and winning against the odds.

Stone went to college but dropped out in his junior year to become a journalist and autodidact:

I loved learning and hated school. I devoured books from the moment I first learned to read but resisted every effort to make me study whatever I saw no sense in learning. A few teachers I loved, the rest I despised .… I thought I might teach philosophy but the atmosphere of a college faculty repelled me; the few islands of greatness seemed to be washed by seas of pettiness and mediocrity. The smell of a newsroom was more attractive …. In the mornings, feeling like Jude the Obscure (how I loved Hardy’s dark vision in those days!), I would go to the library and read. The high points of my self-education in that period were two books of the De Rerum Natura of Lucretius in Latin and one poem of Sappho’s in Greek. The other books I gobbled are too numerous to mention, but I still feel like a dropout whose education was cut short. (Stone 1973, 308 [1971])

This was his mature view of his early development, and he doesn’t equivocate in his judgments of university scholars. While his reading interests might be somewhat rarified for most journalists, his sentiments about academics will be familiar to them, and intimately so to journalists working as educators within the university system (Zelizer, 2004). In my observation and experience the relationship between journalism and scholarly research sits as a profound ambivalence in the psyche of many journalism educators.

Stone published twelve books, and others published (one posthumously) two anthologies of his work from the Weekly. All but the next-to-last were closely engaged with contemporary issues of public life. The exception was ‘The Trial of Socrates’ (1988), for which in his retirement Stone mastered ancient Greek sufficient to read critically the primary sources in the original and make his own assessment of their merits and meaning. It was reviewed widely, negatively by some scholars but favourably by others (Guttenplan, 2010). It didn’t set out to engage with the concerns of contemporary academic debate, but more to place Socrates and his fate in the socio-political context of Athens in the fifth century BCE, and to evaluate in that light Socrates’ position, social relations and the decisions he made during this period. As such, it was an archetypal work of historical journalism, and highly regarded as such: for instance, it was considered to be the most important book in his library by Senator John Edwards, contender in the 2008 US Democratic Party’s Presidential primary.

The Trial of Socrates is in part a reflection on the role and responsibilities of the intellectual, and therefore can be viewed also as a valedictory elaboration of Stone’s view of himself, grounded within the most distinguished intellectual debates about the roles and responsibilities of intellectuals that he could find (Stone, 1988, p x). One has the strong sense that he would be happy to have his own career and output judged by the criteria he sets for Socrates, and by the same token would judge harshly his contemporary intellectuals who emulate Socrates.

The book presents an elaborate argument about the relationship between intellectual work and its social context, told through the narrative of Socrates’ trial. Stone engages with the fundamental issues of philosophical debate in ancient Athens: for example, he disapproves of the search for definition that pre-occupied Socrates and his chief promoter Plato:

For Socrates and for Plato the search for definition became a search for an unchangeable, invariable, eternal and absolute “reality” beneath, above and beyond this Heraclitan universe of constant flux and irredeemable contradictions. The history of this search is, in miniature, the history of philosophy. We simply find ourselves – as if trapped in a metaphysical maze – coming back century after century, though in a spiral of increasing sophistication and complexity, to the same half dozen basic answers worked out by the ancient Greek philosophers. (Stone, 1988, p. 69)

Stone viewed the essentialism of Socrates and Plato as a reaction against the position taken by the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus for whom “[c]hange, perpetual and inescapable, was his central theme. He observed that all things change, and that one could never – as he said – step into the same river twice.” (Stone, 1988, p 69). Stone approved of this position, but argued that it needed to be reconciled with Heraclitus’s doctrine of the identity of opposites, so that “[e]verything does in one sense change, but in another sense it often also remains the same” and that

Change is a constant, but so is identity. The whole truth can only be achieved by taking both into consideration. This is the ultimate inspiration of the Hegelian dialectic (author’s note: and therefore by implication the Marxist dialectic as well), which sought the reconciliation of opposites in a higher synthesis (Stone, 1988, p 69)

For Stone, this relational approach is much more efficacious than a fruitless search for essential identity, and he endorsed the perspective of the ancients Varro – that “the method of discussion pursued by Socrates in almost all the dialogues so diversely and so fully recorded by his hearers is to affirm nothing himself but to refute others”; Cicero – that Socrates originated “a purely negative dialectic which refrains from pronouncing any positive judgement”; and St Augustine – that Socrates “was in the habit of starting every possible argument and maintaining or demolishing all possible positions” ( all quoted and referenced in Stone, 1988, p 61).

The corollary of Socrates’ epistemological position was that he didn’t engage with public debate with his fellow Athenians on the major issues of his day, since the failure of definition always precluded wise action. Indeed, on this basis he disdained democracy as a political form:

SOCRATES: Then when the orator who does not know what good and evil are, undertakes to persuade a state which is equally ignorant, not by praising “the shadow of an ass” under the name of a horse, but by praising evil under the name of good, and having studied the opinions of the multitude persuading them to do evil rather than good, which harvest do you suppose his oratory will reap thereafter from the seed he has sown?

PHAEDRUS: No very good harvest. (Plato, Phaedrus, quoted in Stone, 1988, p 74)

The political problem for Socrates was that some of his leading disciples shared his anti-democratic values, and participated in the two periods of brutal dictatorship known as the Dictatorship of the Four Hundred (411 BCE) and the Tyranny of the Thirty (404–403 BCE), when many Athenian democrats lost their lives through persecution or in the struggles to overthrow the dictatorships. Stone locates the charge laid against Socrates, of corrupting the youth of Athens, in this political context of his alleged acquiescence in the crimes of the dictatorship perpetrated by his disciples. He further argues that Socrates had ample opportunity to flee or deflect the prosecution, but instead chose to embrace it and his death penalty as a martyrdom to confirm the folly of democratic processes, in this case of trial by jury of his fellow citizens (Stone, 1988, p 181 ff).

It is not hard to read Stone’s account as an argument for the convictions that underpinned his own life trajectory, particularly through the hazards of his condemnation and isolation under McCarthyism. Contra Socrates, he didn’t prevaricate on the major issues of his day but developed positions on principle that he defended rigorously in moral, intellectual and political terms. Further, through his journalism he always engaged the scrutiny of public opinion and critical debate with other journalists and commentators. As a conceptualisation of the role of the journalist as public intellectual it meets Weick’s and Thompson’s criteria of being relational (the role of the intellectual is defined in relation to the public issues of the day), involving abstraction in understanding the processes underway, generating operational definitions for appropriate practice and robust criteria by which to judge their efficacy (Weick, 1996). Conversely, the Socratic approach fails those tests in Stone’s eyes, as did the “mediocrity and pettiness” of the great plurality of college faculty.

James Carey

James Carey’s life circumstances and background differed from Stone’s. “His family was Irish, Catholic and working class; men and women alike were mill, jewellery and railroad workers and trade union organisers as well, involved in the politics of parish and precinct.” (Munson and Warren, 1997, p xii). The first in his family to go to college, he became a lifelong academic, for decades at the University of Illinois before moving to Columbia University in 1992 to establish the doctoral program in the Graduate School of Journalism. Regarded highly by his colleagues, and by some as the leader in his field of American cultural studies, he had risen to become long-serving Dean of the College of Communication at Illinois. He also became President of the Association for Educators in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), in spite of the fact that in 1996 he delivered a widely-read paper on the topic “Where Journalism education went wrong’ in which he sheeted the blame home to the infusion of communication studies into journalism.

Axiom one: Journalism and journalism education is not a synonym or umbrella term for advertising, communications, media studies, public relations, or broadcasting. Journalism is a distinct social practice that comes into existence at a given moment in historical time and therefore must not be confused with these other related but distinct practices. Journalism must not be confused with them either in education or in the news room. Journalism education must take journalism itself as its distinct object of attention.

Axiom two: Journalism as a distinctive social practice should not be confused with media or communications. Media are organizations, bureaucracies, technologies in which or with which journalism takes place; communications is a generalized social process for transferring meaning. But neither communications nor media are the same things as journalism. Journalism can be practiced in large organizations or small ones, by independent practitioners or large teams, using the human voice or hand or printing press or television camera. How and where journalism occurs is of some importance, but to confuse journalism with media or communications is to confuse the fish story with the fish.

Axiom three: Journalism is another name for democracy or, better, you cannot have journalism without democracy. The practices of journalism are not self-justifying; rather, they are justified in terms of the social consequences they engender, namely the constitution of a democratic social order. (Carey, 1996, p 6)

For Carey, the natural academic home of journalism was with the humanities and humanistic social sciences, particularly political theory, literature, philosophy, art and history, but

“[u]nfortunately – paradoxically – the humanities have had little interest in journalism; indeed they have had little but disdain for it …. The natural estrangement of journalism from the academy was compounded by the natural snobbism of the humanities …. Alienated from its natural home, journalism education has sought refuge in technique or in science. Technique, in the long run, is too thin to justify a home in the university. Science, under the dominant construction of what science is, deeply undercuts the democratic impulse of journalism. (Carey, 1996, p 7)

The ‘science’ that Carey is referring to is quantitative communication studies of the type that dominated the North American communications curriculum and research journals from the middle of the twentieth century, and not surprisingly with this attitude, Carey wasn’t published in Journalism Quarterly until after he assumed the presidency of its sponsoring organization, the AEJMC (Munson and Warren, 1997 pp xiii-xiv).

Carey located himself in the traditions of the Chicago School of Sociology with Dewey and Park, which saw communication as the life-blood of a democratic polity, and engagement with contemporary society as the appropriate focus of research and scholarship. Dewey had united these two principles when he stated that the proper function of a sociology department was the production of a daily newspaper, and Park’s approach to research was strongly influenced by his experience as a working journalist (Lindner, 1996).

Though Carey was speaking from within the academy and Stone spoke from without, their views on the value of much academic work clearly resonated. Similarly Carey was deeply critical of the inability of mainstream North American forms of journalism to answer adequately the fundamental ‘how’ and ‘why’ questions in its reportage of contemporary issues. He argued that journalists most frequently attribute causation to motive on the part of the agents in a story, either individual or collective (Carey, 1986). Both men had a deeply political conception of the role of journalism in democratic society, a contempt for the timidity and studied irrelevance of much academic scholarship, and a profound belief, sourced from the ancient Greeks, in the intellectual importance of engagement in public life.

Taken together, these principles could be used to endorse a ‘civics’ tradition where scholars would deploy their specialist knowledge for the public good when appropriate, for example, as an oncologist might engage in public campaigns against smoking, or a climate scientist campaign against the threat of anthropogenic climate change. But those example lead us back to the challenge laid out at the beginning of this paper: if journalism has a place among the disciplines, what is its unique contribution within the academy that distinguishes it as a discipline, as well as being a profession that can be deployed within the wider world for the public good?

One way to approach this question is to turn it on its head and ask: what are the aspects of journalism that are most problematic for its acceptance as a discipline within the academy? In the rest of this paper, I will address three characteristics of journalism that seem to pose difficulties for its status as a discipline: a crudely positivist conception of the empirical that eschews methodological questions, a temporal restriction to narrowly contemporary events and processes that militates against considered reflection and measured analysis, and an intrinsic engagement with the exercise of power in the terms of representation of events and processes that must corrupt the detachment required for scholarly analysis.

Objectivity and the empirical

This is the easiest of the three objections to deal with. A commitment to the concept of ‘facts’ and the possibility that they can be adequately represented in discourse has been intrinsic to the definition of journalism since its European inception in the sixteenth century. But scholarly critics allege that journalism is dependent on a crude positivism based on direct observation by the journalist or a witness, with no rigorous methodology underpinning the choice of events and witnesses, nor theoretical framework to explain causation. Carey argues that journalists have a hierarchy of substitutes for addressing the causation issue, most commonly substituting motive on the part of individuals or groups, and deferring explanation of significance and consequences to expert authorities (Carey, 1997, p 173 ff). This reliance on experts from other disciplines for anything beyond direct observation confirms the inadequacies of journalism in the eyes of its scholarly critics.

But as a host of eminent scholars have researched and debated, precisely what was meant by ‘facts’ and ‘truth’ in journalism has changed and developed over time in response to social, economic, technological and intellectual factors (Carey, 1986; Schudson, 1996, 2001; Ward, 2010). Concepts such as objectivity, fairness and balance have risen and fallen in prominence and usage over time, and from the early twentieth century (Lippmann, 2008 [1920] till the present (Kovach and Rosenstiel, 2007) there has been an increasing emphasis on the requirements for verification of truth claims and transparency of sources. These debates about verification in journalism resonate strongly with the debates in the other humanities, in particular in historiography (Curthoys and Ducker, 2005). It is within the discipline of history that the ultimate judgements on veracity and interpretation in journalism will be made, and history like journalism is an interdisciplinary endeavour. The potential for transparency is, of course, greatly enhanced through online media, and enables readers/viewers to access directly a range of evidence to assess journalists’ interpretations of events and processes, a form of rigour not readily available in most scholarly forms of presentation till recently.

Journalism is a broad church encompassing an enormous range of genres and instances historically and geographically, and both critics and defenders of its performance can easily find examples to buttress their case. While the analysis of what journalism is in practice is crucially important in any reflexive engagement, as for any profession including medicine, law, history and so on, it is also true to say that what happens in the universities where frontiers of the profession and discipline are defined for future practitioners is vitally important, and that is our focus in this paper.


Journalism is a practice that is temporally defined. G. Stuart Adam put it thus:

If journalism is marked by its public voice, it is marked equally by its relation to the here and now. Michael Oakeshott, a British philosopher, once defined “the world of history [as] the real world as a whole comprehended under the category of the past.” The world of journalism, by contrast, may be the real world as a whole comprehended under the category of the present ….[J]ournalism is avowedly about the present, not the past. (Adam, 2005: 13)

The precise definition of the present depends on the conditions of production, and can vary from the instantaneity of live broadcast coverage through the daily, weekly and monthly deadlines of cyclical publication to the one-off time-frames of long-form genres such as documentaries and books, and now includes the constantly expandable and updatable accounts of web sites, including collective endeavours such as Wikipedia. The amount of time available to research, verify and interpret the significance and meaning of events and processes is clearly relevant to the calibre of the analysis. But conversely, the more removed from events and processes the analysis is, the less impact it is likely to have on the protagonists. That is the trade-off, and it is a key aspect of the boundary/fracture that separates journalism and the academy. For journalists, relevance to ongoing processes is a definitive value of the discipline/profession, whether it be timely news of impending natural disasters or of unfolding social processes in politics, the economy, culture or sport.

What timeliness requires of journalist is the capacity to react instantaneously to information received in order to determine the next step in an investigation. A good example is the interview situation in live broadcast media or press conferences. Journalists have to be able to interpret the significance of an answer to a question in order to determine the most appropriate next question in a sequence. Often called ‘news sense’, this capacity is notoriously difficult for journalists to define (Baker, 1981), but probably because the quest for an essential definition, as Stone argued with respect to the Socratic method, is doomed to inadequacy. A relational approach of insight into the structure of an engagement among related elements in a process, and the positionality and interests of the stakeholders, is arguably a much more informative approach.

The capacities of journalists in such a situation manifest themselves as intuition or instinct, and journalists are often unwilling to discuss it in terms other than this, which like a positivist attitude to the empirical suggests that there is no underlying methodology available for critique and analysis as demanded in scholarship. But as Bourdieu argues with respect to his concept of habitus, it is in fact learned social behaviour that derives from the acquired capital of experience and education (Bourdieu and Waquant, 1992). That capital is related to the structure of the field and the positions of the agents within the field. All arenas of human interaction, including scholarly theorisation and analysis, are the product of the fields of their production and the social relations therein. Arguments about the role of intuition and inspiration in research fields such as the natural sciences parallel the argument news sense in journalism. Bourdieu’s approach to field theory is fertile ground for the theorisation of journalistic practice, as is increasingly being argued and debated, and there is certainly a lot of work to be done (Benson and Neveu, 2005; Bacon and Nash, 2006; Nash 2010). The point for our purposes is that it is available to be done, and Bourdieu’s linkage of habitus presenting itself as intuition to the structure of the field is an excellent starting point.

A engagement with unfolding events and processes in the present requires choices based on a restricted amount of available information, but the validity of those choices won’t necessarily be assessed as inadequate by subsequent review. Journalists have a range of procedural principles and parameters to guide them in these choices (Kovach and Rosenstiel, 2007), and while these may prove to have been more or less adequate to the task in hindsight, nonetheless they are not by definition ultra vires of valid research: to argue otherwise amounts to special pleading for the merits of alternative disciplines.

Power and knowledge production

What the opportunity of relevance and input into unfolding events does impose on journalism is an active engagement with the political relations underpinning the process, particularly in the selection of authoritative sources for empirical verification and expert opinion for analysis of significance and consequence of events. This has long been discussed in journalism studies, to the effect that the choice of authoritative source is as much about valorising the sources’ authority as it is about attesting to the empirical evidence and its significance (Hall, 1978, Tuchman, 1978; Ericson, 1989). For other disciplines, this undoubtedly provokes a fear that the truth claims and knowledge outcomes of the journalism production process will be adulterated by political influence. However, recognition of the normative and contingent character of social knowledge goes back to Aristotle and his argument that knowledge of the social world necessarily involves phronesis or prudence. Stone and Carey thoroughly agree, and indeed it underlies their commitment to journalism as an intrinsic component of democracy. Flyvbjeg (2003) endorses this approach, and citing Foucault and Bourdieu as contemporary theorists of the role of power in all knowledge production, argues that social scientists should embrace this recognition and then deal with its ramifications for methodology. Schlesinger (1990) and Benson (2005) argue for the relevance to journalism of Bourdieu’s conceptualisation of field analysis, and I won’t reprise those arguments here (see Nash 2010 for a full exposition of the discussion). But a recognition of the necessarily political dimension of truth claims that flows from the contemporary context of journalism production immediately raises the question of accountability, to which I will turn now in the concluding section of this paper.


Stone’s account of the trial of Socrates is an extended argument that he be held accountable for his teaching and his actions in the democratic context of his time. It demands that Socrates himself recognise the political dimension of his teaching, and while it condemns the imposition of the death penalty, argues that Socrates wittingly embraced it, and was himself therefore actively complicit in the production of the unfolding social relations that determined his fate. In an sense, this a defining dimension of Socrates greatness, that he was able to read and understand the developing structure of the situation in its personal, social and intellectual dimensions, and act purposively to place himself in a specific place in that structure, from whence he could speak truth (as he saw it) to power. This is an allegory for Stone’s view of his own role as a journalist and public intellectual in his own time, and by using Socrates’ story as the basis for the allegory, he is seeking to ground it on the most firm intellectual foundations.

Carey would endorse this perspective. His demand is that journalism education and scholarship actively embrace the humanities disciplines of history and politics, particularly in the context of urban studies as advanced by the Chicago School and their contemporary American interpreters such as Gelfand (Carey, 1996). Contemporary relevance in the context of historical and geographical development, and an engagement with the political (small-p but big picture) dimension of journalism, were the criteria he used to condemn the sort of communications studies into which academic journalism had been subsumed in his view..

One does not have to agree with the specific views that Stone or Carey might have taken on the current issues of the time and place of their social engagement, twentieth century North America and its international engagements, to recognise the intellectual power of their positions. Paradoxically, despite their own condemnation of the inadequacies of university-based approaches to scholarship and journalism, the power of their arguments demonstrates the poverty of the view that journalism has no place in a university precisely because they are engaging at a profound level with fundamental issues of knowledge production and accountability. The debate is over, and what is called for is that journalists in universities get on with the job of engaging with these issues in all their complexity, just as other professions have done and are doing. This particularly applies to questions of what constitutes the public or publics, whose ‘right to know’ is the relational basis of the right and responsibilities that establishes journalism as a democratic practice.

If this analysis is correct, it begs the question of why there has been such hostility from other disciplines to the recognition of journalism’s contribution, potential and actual, to intellectual life. Perhaps it is precisely because it necessarily throws up the issue of accountability, which is such anathema to both the ivory tower and commercialised conceptions of the academy’s role in the production and circulation of knowledge. If so, then journalism’s accession to the high table in the community of scholars cannot come too soon, and may well prove the antidote to the elitism that sustains it.


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