Journalism is a craft. It is not now and has never been a profession. Journalism schools, however well-intentioned, have not made journalism into a profession. Nowadays the commercial press emphatically does not operate under anything that even remotely resembles a professional standard of operations (that the traditional professions increasingly don’t, either, is a problem but it’s a different problem). News is distributed according to a wholesale distribution model, not a professional one. Worse, today’s news media are international while standards of journalistic ethics are not. That news report you’re reading may come from a place where the government owns the press; it may not. It may have been reported and written by a journalism school graduate who adheres to the most rigid code of journalistic ethics; the odds are it wasn’t.
Distinguishing between reliable and unreliable sources, balanced views and those who are grinding axes, knowing what’s a news report and what’s an opinion are skills that we must cultivate. We can’t rely on a benevolent and all-wise commercial press.
David Hazinski,writing in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, isn’t happy that the self-appointed unwashed mob i.e. you and me are trampling upon the private prerogatives of the self-appointed professional press:
The premise of citizen journalism is that regular people can now collect information and pictures with video cameras and cellphones, and distribute words and images over the Internet. Advocates argue that the acts of collecting and distributing makes these people “journalists.” This is like saying someone who carries a scalpel is a “citizen surgeon” or someone who can read a law book is a “citizen lawyer.” Tools are merely that. Education, skill and standards are really what make people into trusted professionals. Information without journalistic standards is called gossip.
But unlike those other professions, journalism — at least in the United States — has never adopted uniform self-regulating standards. There are commonly accepted ethical principals — two source confirmation of controversial information or the balanced reporting of both sides of a story, for example, but adhering to the principals is voluntary. There is no licensing, testing, mandatory education or boards of review. Most other professions do a poor job of self-regulation, but at least they have mechanisms to regulate themselves. Journalists do not.
Hat tip: memeorandum
Over the last couple of years the examples of the commercial newspapers and other media violating every conceivable tenet of a code of journalistic ethics without repercussions other than a loss of readership or viewership are so numerous that we’re tempted to think of them as the norm rather than the exception. There is no risk that more citizen journalism wil result in stories being reported without confirmation or that stories will be reported without balance. God, send a cure. The disease is already here! How much worse than commercial reporting that cuts sweetheart deals with the vilest of dictators not to report his misdeeds in exchange for continued access can citizen journalism be?
We’re already bearing the risks. The only way to mitigate the risk is citizen journalism.