Journalism, as a calling, asks for a moral dimension, professional skills, and professional aims. Similar to the biblical wedding feast, many are called, but few are chosen.

Ranks of journalists are thinning as some older media must now share advertising revenues with the Internet. Total advertising revenues of many newspapers and magazines decline and their staffs shrink. Journalists go from paid posts in news media to an array of other employments. Many choose self-employment.

Yet the call to journalism is fresh and strong to many who prefer journalism as a way of life for its own sake, because it is worth doing. Therein rest some of the differences between a calling, a profession, and an occupation.

A professional journalist works for pay and for recognition as an expert practitioner. Professionals in some fields aside from journalism look to recognition by a governmental licensing authority or a non-governmental authority through which the malpractitioner might lose recognition as a professional. Medicine and law serve as examples of traditional professions that follow the path of governmental licensing. Psychologists who belong to the American Psychological Association might lose membership if they do not keep to the ethical precepts of the Association.

Journalists generally abhor licensing for its political dangers (e.g., those who issue licenses might also cancel them), and sometimes find means to reduce recognition or group membership approval of the unworthy other than through the use of governmental force.

Professional journalists also work for professional aims, as expressed in various non-governmental codes of professional behavior. Often these include pursuit of the public good, as well as acts to be avoided. The codes of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists and the Radio-Television News Directors Association offer examples of professional aims in the United States.

Journalism as an occupation requires skills, without necessarily demanding either professional aims or the moral dimension of a calling. An occupational journalist plies a craft for what it is worth in time, effort, and money to produce, while taking care to make the work marketable.

Journalism as a calling needs but is not limited to professional skills. These include the ability to write, speak, and photograph as clearly, plainly, and briefly as the moment requires. Working behind these skills are those of languages and literacy, ability to reason, ability to do mathematics, and ability to ask the right questions. Substances behind all of these skills are superior education in arts, letters, and sciences, and advanced training.

Yet journalism as a calling asks for more than professional aims and professional skills. A calling goes beyond these to ask for moral commitment to work for more than pay, recognition, seeking public good, and avoiding unprofessional acts. A calling to journalism requires commitment as educator and trainer, and as watcher for danger and institutional defect. The aims are pursued for their own sakes and not for pay or professional recognition. Pay and recognition might follow-or might not.

Whether chosen (the few) or not chosen (the many) from those who are the called to journalism, whether professional or amateur, all are able to pursue liberty and justice in their roles as worthy individuals and be good members of society. Some seem likely to receive high pay and professional recognition in fields akin to journalism.

But those who are called are endowed with a moral dimension.

Kenneth Harwood, who has been a professor and scholar at a number of universities for more than five decades, currently is an adjunct professor of communications at the University of California, Santa Barbara. His E-mail address is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.