Too Risky For Whom?

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.

8 comments… add one
  • Amen!

  • PD Shaw Link

    I think one of the key reasons the press has not adopted self-regulation standards is due to its privileged position in our Constitutional system. The non-broadcast media is largely immune from government regulation and thus has no incentive to self-regulate as other industries have when they fall under the eye of Congress.

    In a non-regulatory environment (the marketplace of ideas), we are left with two levers: supply and demand. Blogs increase the supply, which is a good thing in such a system, except that it hurts profitability. Looking for ways to restrict entry into “journalism” is an obvious response. But the thing that concerns me is the demand-side. Do blogs increase the demand for accuracy in reporting or do they increase the demand for the sensational? Do they increase the appetite for the truth or do they leave people believing the truth is a partisan construct? Obviously the record is mixed.

  • There are actually many parallels between journalism and my profession – intelligence. One of the primary differences is that intelligence is grounded in social science principles and is (ideally) more about process than result. What passes for “journalism” these days is anything but.

  • Allen Link

    Hazinski’s arrogance is breathtaking. I notice that journalists seem to have no problems when they are writing about deep scientific issues and seeming to pass themselves off as understanding the issue. Journalist-Scientists I guess. Most of the “science” news I see would never make it past a peer review.

  • Larry Link

    There’s nothing new here, there’s always another take on the “story”, another perspective..take a walk through your local library, we keep writing on the same old subjects over and over again…just can’t seem to get to the core of the matter on much of anything. I believe Plato had a pretty good take on humans and our mountians of knowlege, our knowledge is like a tree..where it’s branches reach out and spread out…but the tree only gets so high no matter how many branches it has.

    Has journalism really changed much historically, not really. It is what it is…it’s free speech.

    Science…oh boy, do yo mean the new religion that’s come to town..get down on your knees and bow your heads..the new god is all knowing and all powerfull…looks like a new branch sprouting from the old tree trunk… again..I bet for every great scientific good there is an equal scientific nightmare. Let’s build a few more wonderful weapons to control the masses…keep the dogs in their place…heel boy…sit…fetch…roll over..attack…whoops, this sounds like right wing radio..sorry…got carried away…

    You know what is so good about the new can interact with it much quicker…but wait..oh yes, what is that law in phyics…for every action there is a reaction..something like that..I forget what verse that is…

  • Oh come now, try not to be too much of a cranky old man mate.

    Journalism is merely a writing profession, and quite simply given its nature impossible to “professionalise” in the proper sense. The US fiction of the wall between editorial and news is not even universally accepted in developed Anglo Saxon countries, never mind other developed countries.

    I mean really, are you all so really weak minded that you can’t bloody well read an article for its merits, despite the fact the journo is a non-specialist? I do understand frustration in reading journos writing poorly about technical issues, but they aren’t fucking writing for “peer review” (that is a bloody fucking stupid criticism I may add), but trying to digest materials for the general public. In my own areas of expertise, financial, regional and even science I am constantly pained, but I don’t piss and moan about the decline of journalism.

    I may add this observation from the post is silly
    Worse, today’s news media are international while standards of journalistic ethics are not.

    Today’s media?

    Get a bloody clue mate, that has always been the case.

    Even if you send one of your journo school grads from, what Harvard?, in most locations he will reply on local English language speakers obs (to be polite, or spin to be direct).

    That is reality.

    And now you have idiotic bloggers banging around as demi journos (Totten and that cretin from NRO who had to resign come to mind) who lack the slightest critical discipline.

    This, frankly, is one of this sites stupidest moments.

  • Worse, today’s news media are international while standards of journalistic ethics are not.

    Today’s media?

    Get a bloody clue mate, that has always been the case.

    Poor diction on my part. What I meant (and should have written) is that today we get our news from all over the world (perhaps not enough so as you’ve often pointed out), the rules aren’t the same everywhere, we shouldn’t expect them to be so, and we can’t make them so.

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