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I Called This One

I made this prediction way back in February of 2005:

I resisted the call by a number of web sites at the beginning of the year to make predictions for 2005.  However, now I will make one:  We will soon see calls to bring a tighter licensing or credentialing system for journalists, similar to what we see for lawyers, doctors, teachers, and, god help us, for beauticians.  The proposals will be nominally justified by improving ethics or similar laudable things, but, like most credentialing systems, will be aimed not at those on the inside but those on the outside.  At one time or another, teachers, massage therapists, and hairdressers have all used licensing or credentialing as a way to fight competition from upstart competitors, often ones with new business models who don't have the same trade-specific educational degrees the insiders have....

Such credentialing can provide a powerful comeback for industry insiders under attack.  Teachers, for example, use it every chance they get to attack home schooling and private schools, despite the fact that uncertified teachers in both these latter environments do better than the average certified teacher (for example, kids home schooled by moms who dropped out of high school performed at the 83rd percentile).  So, next time the MSM is under attack from the blogosphere, rather than address the issues, they can say that that guy in Tennessee is just a college professor and isn't even a licensed journalist.

So here we go, here are a few recent such calls for licensing of journalists.  The first via Hot Air:

Supporters of “citizen journalism” argue it provides independent, accurate, reliable information that the traditional media don’t provide. While it has its place, the reality is it really isn’t journalism at all, and it opens up information flow to the strong probability of fraud and abuse. The news industry should find some way to monitor and regulate this new trend....

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 that one is downright sane compared to this, from Cleveland's Voice for Social Justice (have you noticed how "social justice" always seems to require forcefully silencing people?):

For every champion of journalism who write stories about Walter Reed or Extraordinary Rendition Flights, there are two reporters at Channel 19 who care very little about society. For every Seymore Hersh there are five Michelle Malkins or Ann Coulters.   With citizen journalists spreading like wildfire in blogs, we seem to have one Froomkin created, there are five extremist blogs proclaiming the assaults on homeless people everyday....

The Society of Professional Journalists must start licensing journalists or the government will start doing it for them. We need to start taking this practice seriously and separate the real journalists from the fakes. The decisions made by journalists have consequences for ruining people's lives or for causing grief, suicide or even murder. The genocide in Rhwanda were carried out using the radio commentators to urge citizens to kill Tutsis. If journalists want to be taken seriously they must figure out how to separate the real from the O'Reilly types. They must set up a structure to license journalists with an enforcement mechanism to strip bad journalists from practicing their craft.

This is from the weblog of a bunch of media students:

It scares me to think that the field I will going pursuing when I graduate might be confused with entertainment reporting – things like “Who Ben Affleck is dating now” and “Will Brad and Jen get back together.” Certainly, these things are news to a select few. I will not, however, get into the whole tabloid issue. I seems to have sparked some intense debate with that one a few weeks ago. But, I am worried that with the onslaught of weblogs and internet news, many readers and listeners will get confused and think what they’re reading and watching is actually news. I have nothing against web loggers, even though they are a threat to my future career. But, all of this leads me to question the professionalism of journalism.

Should we license journalists? This has been a question that has been debated back and forth for awhile. Many journalists are against the idea because they believe that that would mean licensing information and licensing free speech. But I think we need to look at the issues at hand right now. The news is getting out-of-hand. The public is being onslaught with an enormous amount of information due to our increasing rush of technology and it has to be hard for them to differentiate between real news and opinions being costumed as news. This is why we need to start seriously considering licensing journalists. It may be the only real hope for the future of journalists. With licenses, we can hold on to whatever ethical and moral characteristics we have left in the news business. There will be no more “parading reporters” and no more “video news releases.” Who thinks we should pursue this? Who thinks the entire idea is ridiculous?

Some countries are seriously considering it.  Brazil and Indonesia are looking into licensing their journalists.  Here's an article from Indonesia - even though it's agaist thh idea of licensing it's still a good example of how serious this debate is becoming

Its good we are taking lessons on free speech and the media from Indonesia and Brazil.  I probably should not make fun of the typos and grammar errors in this post by a "media student" since I make such mistakes all the time.  Of course, I am not a "licensed journalist."

This is not a new issue.  In the early 1980's, the US vigorously resisted attempts by the UN to implement a variety of euphemisms that boiled down to licensing requirements for international journalists.

Posted on December 14, 2007 at 12:19 PM | Permalink


"the public is being onslaught"
"opinions being costumed"

Let's hope if they do institute licensing requirements, ability to write standard English will be among them.

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.
Ooh, scary! Distributing words and images!

They must set up a structure to license journalists with an enforcement mechanism to strip bad journalists from practicing their craft.
Does this mean strip people of the right to write and disseminate information? Insane!

Of course, I'm all for "citizen lawyers" and "citizen doctors" too. I'm clearly the crazy one.

Posted by: nicole | Dec 14, 2007 1:13:24 PM

I'm not sure how this sort of thing would work out for "serious journalists" in reality. Given it seems that they often dress up opinion as news themselves. Though I guess if licenses were in place it might make it harder for them to be caught doing this.

Posted by: Jason | Dec 14, 2007 1:41:30 PM

Of course Indonesia wants to license journalists, like every other Islamic state it seeks to suppress "un-Islamic" views. It sponsors rallies for terror organizations that attract hundreds of thousands of people. We certainly shouldn't be taking any lessons from them regarding free speech, or freedoms of any other kind.

CVSJ is simply wrong, in that Ann Coulter, Michell Malkin, and Bill O'Reilly are not journalists. They are media personalities and opinion makers, like Rush Limbaugh. Conflation of "journalism" and "media" can't be accidental. This is nothing less than an attempt to suppress conservative and libertarian opinions.

Posted by: Bob Smith | Dec 14, 2007 2:18:26 PM

If we start licensing journalists then we should license readers, too. Who says that "citizen readers" have the ability to understand what they read? That would insure that the readers agree with everything the journalists write. After all, licensure would make sure that they all write the same thing, right?

Posted by: Bill | Dec 14, 2007 2:18:52 PM

Journalism is the only “profession” that carries with it constitutional protection. No other occupation has a guaranteed constitutional shield attached.

My thinking on this has changed somewhat, with the advent of free market, web-based blogging/primary source journalism. Professional journalists should be held to a higher standard, but I’m unconvinced that licensing is the way to go, as the free market is by far the best arbiter of 1) source, and 2) audience, as the internet is proving daily.

The fragmentation of the news and commentary market (which is really the decimation of an oligopoly of mediocre typists) has led to a deep and robust market, with equal if not surpassed credibility (Dan Rather) to any “professional” journalism product. Not to mention the rank statism implicit in nearly all major media outlet product, thanks to socialist journalism professors at every single major college and university teaching our impressionable (ignorant) kids.

The continuing nosedive in newspaper circulation and plummet in TV news ratings is daily proof that this market is working. This blog is far more entertaining and informative than anything written in the “popular” press.

Screw you, Art Sulzberger.

Posted by: Mesa Econoguy | Dec 14, 2007 5:16:52 PM

And "real" journalism is great? Sure, there are some decent and good ones out there. But how many times have we read an "article" and thought "geez, could you do something more than spend 7 minutes re-writing the press release?".

And even when they do delve in, they still seem to miss points that shouldn't be that hard to make. For example, even in business magazines have you ever seen them mention that there are different types of bond holders when it comes to mortgage backed bonds? Have you ever seen them mention how asset backed bonds aren't having the same issues? I'm not looking for 30 page papers but I do expect to see more reporting on the issue rather than re-hashing things that have already been said.

Posted by: Allen | Dec 14, 2007 11:03:20 PM

The Media Student should consider Phys. Ed.

Posted by: Jim - PRS | Dec 15, 2007 1:34:18 AM

Someone else in commenting on another thread on this topic pointed out the obvious free-market solution to whatever "problem" might exist here -- not regulation but certification.

Real meteorologists were upset by the number of TV stations that had the weather reported by hot "weather girls" or Fluffy the Weather-Puppet, so they created a certification from the American Meteorological Society that many stations run before or after the weather report. Viewers know that the report meets the AMS standards (whatever they might be) and can choose whether to watch this or Fluffy. "Realtor" has a similar origin, I believe.

The problem, of course, is that journalists suspect that nobody would be that impressed by a newspaper carrying a seal saying "Certified by the American Journalism Society -- Dan Rather, President" on its masthead.

Posted by: BobH | Dec 15, 2007 10:15:43 AM

Journalism is approximately equal to an education major, and that major is populated by the stupidest assclowns to pollute the university student body. Why not license them? Give the 'tards an IQ test and set them loose on the public. Most would fail and resort to flipping burgers, the rest would be in retrograde to an Office Space posture and mumble to themselves.

Posted by: skh.pcola | Dec 15, 2007 11:53:06 PM

The question is, who gets to set the licensing requirements? If it was me, any journalist reporting on guns, crime, war, or other violence would have to pass a simple test on firearms - so they wouldn't believe an old Iraqi lady who showed them unfired cartridges and claimed they were "bullets that hit her house", and they'd laugh at politicians that want to ban "assault weapons" but can't explain how these are different from all the other guns. Furthermore, the news organizations would have to provide "balanced" coverage in my view - e.g., any of them that covers hundreds of murders while ignoring hundreds or more defensive uses of guns is gone. (That's all the national organizations except, possibly, Fox.)

Posted by: markm | Dec 17, 2007 10:59:30 AM

If journalists become licensed like those in the medical and legal professions, does that mean they can be sued for malpractice too?

I wouldn't be unhappy to see Dan Blather penniless and behind bars for his use of forged documents in attempt to influence the outcome of an election.

Posted by: RedLion | Dec 18, 2007 5:33:04 AM

"The news is getting out-of-hand." What a worldview that simple sentence conveys, no?

Posted by: ELC | Dec 18, 2007 7:37:41 AM

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