For better and worse, there is no denying that the Internet has changed how we get our information; moreover, it has also changed the data that we get. Where we used to receive our information singularly from several sources, such as newspapers, radios, and television, we now – to a large percentage – receive it from the Internet, while the number of sources and perspectives have increased dramatically. Though it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the multitude of facts and editorialising of information that’s available, we sometimes don’t realize that, for every piece that’s written, there’s someone taking the time and making the effort to write it.
Coming directly from the French journaliste, our term journalist is a combination of the word journal, derived initially from the Late Latin diurnalis, meaning ‘daily’, and the suffix -ist, meaning ‘one who does or makes’. Initially defined strictly as one who earns their living by writing or editing for a public journal, the term was first used in James Wright’s satirical dialogues on the social, literary, religious, & educational conditions in London, entitled The Humours and Conversations of the Town (1693), where he speaks of: “Epistle-Writer, or Journalists, Mercurists.”
Just over 2 decades later, the concept of the term was expanded to include, in a general sense, those who journalize events or simply keep a journal when Joseph Addison, co-publisher of The Spectator, wrote in a 1712 issue that: “My following Correspondent..is such a Journalist as I require… Her Journal..is only the Picture of a Life filled with a fashionable kind of Gaiety and Laziness.”
Interestingly, though we still live in the age of celebrity (or at least well-known) journalists who represent the specific initial definition of the term and make their living through their writing, looking at the second, more generalized definition, it can technically be applied to such valuable historical works as Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, and even the ancient Chinese Spring and Autumn Annals.
Regardless of how one chooses to classify the writers of journals, it’s still worth noting that, as mentioned before, the monolithic body is becoming more fractious, independent, and decentralised, with the advent of the Internet, social media, and alternative/citizen journalism. On one hand, greater choice is always a good thing, but with more options, more outlets, and more facts, it’s also worth remembering that journalists provide perspectives, not some indivisible truth. After all, even the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (or any other work) contains some degree of spin.