Professional Journalism, Bloggers and Free Press: It's a Trade, Not a Profession
What follows is a fantstic comment that appears in a discussion that ensued after a post by DJ Drummond at PoliPundit titled:
“Be Afraid… Be Very Afraid", or Why Weasels Worry
The Drummond post is excellent, one of my favorite posts by anyone in recent memory and deals with the media's reaction to bloggers in general and The Wall Street Journal's editorial reaction to the bloggers' role in the demise of Eason Jordan in particular. Drummond's post is well worth the read indeed. It inspired an outstanding observation by Armin Tamzarian that deserves a blog post of its own. So here it is.
Armin Tamzarian noted:
Drummond is absolutely correct that even the WSJ does not understand bloggers, but that is only the natural result of a larger problem: they do not understand themselves.
From Bret “Grown-up” Stephens’s editorial:
“But it has other obligations, too, chief among them to show the good judgment and sense of proportion that distinguishes professional journalism from the enthusiasms and vendettas of amateurs.”
I’ve said it before: there is no such thing as “professional journalism.” Kids in high school do journalism. They observe, investigate, and write. In essence they do what any “grown-up” reporter does. It is a trade, not a profession, but requirements of knowledge and education aren’t even the major difference.
The major difference is precisely that which Stephens thinks he has but doesn’t: obligations, standards, and ethics. Real professionals have those things, not just taught in a class at Columbia, but as obligations in the literal sense. Lawyers, for example, are required to study professional responsibility in law school. They take an examination standard among the states to demonstrate that they have a basic knowledge of legal ethics rules. There are the American Bar Association’s model rules and model code, and nearly all of the states have adopted one of these model systems as law. Each state has a disciplinary committee of lawyers that has the duty to investigate allegations of violations of these ethical standards and the power to expel from members from the profession should those allegations prove true. Lawyers are open to legal liability for violations of ethics rules. The situation is much the same for physicians.
Individual publications may have standards. “Journalists” as a whole, or at least those with paper to hang on their walls, may have an ethereal consensus on a few general ethical principles. This does not make them professionals. Show me a book of codified journalism rules that is binding law in every state in the country. Show me that everyone who “practices” journalism has passed a test certifying his knowledge of those rules. Show me the disciplinary committees of journalists to whom the public can complain if journalists violate those rules. Show me the authority those disciplinary committees have to ban journalists from practicing journalism. Then we’ll talk about “professional journalists.” Until then, you’re the same as hard-working high school students, only with more degrees and more winters. Maybe, too, you could learn from them that enthusiasm for truth and vendettas against falsehood are not such a bad thing.
Comment by Armin Tamzarian 2/16/2005 - 1:01 am
Very well said, sir.