Professional journalists face more scrutiny in today’s crowded information marketplace because readers confuse them with bloggers and a cadre of online opinion scribes.

Journalism’s essence is a “discipline of verification,” according to Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel of the American Press Institute. This means that journalists pursue verification of facts as the first order of business. If the journalists do not follow these standards, their careers and reputations are on the line.

Readers should understand there are important differences between professional journalists and everyday bloggers. Journalists are held to higher standards. They are required to get specific training through journalism degrees and are held to employment standards that ensure they serve their audiences by providing relevant and reliable stories that matter to their communities.

Professional journalists have degrees in journalism, mass communication or other fields, usually with a curriculum of writing, theory, newsgathering techniques and practice. The curriculum for journalism training is always changing to keep up with new styles and approaches of sharing material, according to Michigan State University professors Robin Blom and Lucinda Davenport.

Mankato Free Press Publisher Steve Jameson also noted that professional journalists often develop their skills through internships or prior experience. Journalists usually start their careers at smaller establishments or school newspapers and work their way into larger roles by creating reliable and compelling work.

Like many other news companies, The Free Press allows their new journalists to become familiar with the area before they are assigned key topics. Journalists develop over time relationships with reliable sources and write stories that are relevant to reader demographics.

Not only are professional journalists educated on the practices and procedures within journalism, they are also held to high standards in the workplace. Professional journalists are held accountable for the work they produce. They follow codes of ethics, libel laws and fact check the information they use, according to Jameson.

Part of journalism training involves the editing process.

Professional journalists work with their editors on story ideas and reporting methods including sourcing and the angle of a story. When journalists are assigned a story, they may gather preliminary information to determine whether a story is worth pursuing.

When they have completed reporting, they send a draft to an editor who then makes corrections or suggestions on further reporting. This creates a system of checks and balances that ensures readers are getting interesting, relevant and reliable information.

While verification is paramount, journalists occasionally make mistakes. When this occurs, a professional news organization will issue corrections immediately, usually in the next edition or broadcast.

“In the end, the discipline of verification is what separates journalism from entertainment, propaganda, fiction or art,” writes Nico Drok, president of the European Journalism Training Association.

Training, experience and a process of checks and balances are the lens through which we can determine when journalism and journalists are trustworthy.

Kevin Krohn and Austin Moorhouse are senior communication studies majors at Gustavus Adolphus College. The Media Literacy Project is a partnership between Gustavus and The Free Press to educate readers on media issues, strategies and infrastructure.

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