The Media and Professionalism
The question of professionalism in media looms large within the overall landscape of ethical behavior. Professions are supposed to have strong ethical standards that, in some ways, set them apart from other occupations. At the same time, because these standards set them apart, the potential for deviation from societal norms is much greater. For example (assuming for the time being that journalism is a profession), a journalist is typically more obliged to gather a story than to become a part of it. That is how most journalists justify not interfering in a story–not coming to someone's aid, for instance. In fact, the long-held standard of noninterference is a mainstay in modern journalism, for without it a journalist might lose his objectivity. However, professions carry with them much baggage. Licensing, restrictions on membership, codes of conduct, prescriptions for proper actions, all tend to put off working journalists. Thus, most journalists shy away from the notion of their occupation becoming a full profession. On the other hand, public relations has historically embraced the trappings of professionalism, seeking to gain the respectability normally associated with other professions, such as law and medicine. Why the difference? In fact, why would members of any occupation want it to become or not become a profession?
Before we begin to explore whether or not the various media are or should be professions, we must define–as much as possible–what a profession is. Perhaps the best way to tackle that question is to describe the characteristics common to most professions. Ethicist Michael Bayles sets down three central features and three secondary features that tend to be present in most professions.1____________________