People can’t agree on what journalism is, so I’ll just tell you.


It was only early evening, though I had already had a few beers from the open bar, plenty of bite-sized appetizers from the buffet (Why, yes, I’ll have one of those cute whatever-they-ares!), and a chocolate covered macaroon too many. My body was ready. Let the networking begin.

“Oh, you’re from Sweden?” I said to a guy who, apparently, is from Sweden. “That’s cool.” I looked down at my shirt, noticing I’d forgotten to wear my name tag. Oh well. Shake hands, exchange nice to meet yous, laugh forcibly but not too loudly, and move on. I’m a real success story.

Like a timid vulture, I crept from painfully-too-small round table to buffet, to bar, and back. Like Julia Child may have done with a turkey roulade, I told myself, “Repeat until stuffed.”

The banquet scene at the Portland Art Museum was perhaps opulent for most journalists, blasé for academics. A professor sat alone in the foyer near a tall marble statue, toying at a meatball with a toothpick.


Academic conferences, even those about journalism, ironically, aren’t exactly fodder for storytelling. Yes, professional journalists were there, and there’s much to glean from them. Academics presented research and made pointed conjectures. A fine conference indeed. Thing is, most of the talks and even the buffet-line schmoozing were two ships passing in the night.

I saw no real debate. I saw no one saying, “This is the right answer! This is journalism! Dissenters to the stockade!” A poke or prod may have at least inspired a mild conniption, a stance, a theory, a conviction. A point of stasis.

Now, it’s not like I expected a consensus would be reached decreeing what journalism is. But I expected debate.

During the closing presentation, when the audience was prompted to finally answer the question what is journalism, Peter Laufer cried out, “Everything’s journalism!”

Mr. Laufer, I respectfully disagree. As journalists, however we define them on a given day, I think we can agree that not all information or viewpoints be treated equally.

“Anne Hathaway Thought This Hat Was So Nice, She Bought It Twice,” one of the top stories on Buzzfeed as of writing, is not journalism. Not in my book.

Andrew DeVigal and Mike Fancher, the men behind the University of Oregon’s journalism programs in Portland’s White Stag building, prompted the audience to take a stance. Here’s what I came up with:

Journalism is the activity of creating newsworthy or socially relevant content for professional publication or broadcasting that has a role in informing the public about society, its issues, and stakeholders, or the product of that activity.

This is the right answer! This is journalism! Dissenters to the stockade!