Sunday, March 04, 2007

Licensing of Journalists

Fourth Estate? Then Act Like It

I have no problem defending the Balco Reporters from the San Francisco Chronicle or the blogger who is sitting in jail for not handing over the tape of the anti-war protesters that damaged a California police car, but these reporters seem to be the exception rather than the rule. 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.

Lawyers have a role to play in this discussion. While there are many scummy lawyers and a million more lawyer jokes then journalist jokes, they have a governing structure in place. The Bar Associations' license lawyers and enforce rules. So, in theory, a lawyer who is abusing his authority can be brought up on maleficence charges and have their ability to practice law stripped. This means that if a lawyer breaks the law they lose the ability to practice law. Why can't we do the same for journalism?

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. Then the disgraced could go about their business as outsiders commenting on the news but not pretending to be journalists.


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Blogger John Ettorre said...

Please tell me you're joking. How in the world could this ever be consistent with freedom of expression and the First Amendment, among the most important bedrocks of our consitutional system. Have you really thought this through?

8:23 PM  
Blogger Jill said...

Brian - are you familiar with Media Bloggers Association? They are doing some interesting work kind of sort of in this vein.

9:54 PM  
Blogger Homeless Grapevine said...

Fox and Friends, Nancy Grace, and locally Channel 19 are doing harm to all of us and are destroying our democracy. They give journalists a bad name. I am not saying that the government step in. I am saying that a professional organization needs to step in and hold journalists to some standards. I do not see how this harms the First Amendment. I am not saying that those who are not journalists cannot write. I am just saying that they cannot call themselves by the professional name of journalist. Just like novices are allowed to act as their own attorney, but they do not get to be called a lawyer.


11:04 PM  
Blogger John Ettorre said...

First of all, by using the word "license," you're by definition talking about a government action. A private professional group such as SPJ (or a bar association) cannot license anyone. Only a state or some other unit of a government can do that. Lawyers do not win their licenses from the bar association, but rather from individual states in which they're permitted to practice law. And in any case, bar associations are notoriously lax about their enforcement of professional rules, in part because of the natural hesitancy to criticize one's peers.

Secondly, there is NO WAY that the government can ever take away someone's right to practice journalism under our First Amendment. I would have thought that a bright person like you would understand that. Haven't you studied American history or anything about our Constitution, Brian?

The only answer, then, is to pay attention to and applaud good journalism and ignore, criticize, even protest against bad. Vote with your voice, your attention and your dollars for what you consider good journalism, and if enough people do that, the good will flourish and the bad will go out of business. That's the only option available under our 200-plus-year system of government. The answer to bad speech is not censorship but more and better speech.

10:58 AM  
Blogger Homeless Grapevine said...

No, I am sorry "paying attention and applauding" has not worked because the American public will sit and watch crap on CNN, Fox and MSNBC for hours. The small numbers who pay attention do not matter. The bulk of the population will watch the propaganda passed off as news and believe it. You do not seem to agree that this problem (not foreseen at the Founding of the Country) is shaking the fundamentals of democracy.

As an aside...John, why are your comments always so condescending and insulting? Why can't you just state your argument without comments like "I would have thought that a bright person like you would understand that. Haven't you studied American history or anything about our Constitution, Brian?" Has it been a bad couple of days or did I run over your dog in the past?

You never answer my concern that journalists have tremendous power, and they are abusing that power. That crazy commentator on Channel 19 spreads fear about poor people on a regular basis, and the viewers believe it. That is why it is easier for young people to violently attack homeless people or voters to withdraw food or healthcare from "welfare queens."

All of us stupid people out here are getting fed up and will allow all the journalists to go to jail if they don't clean up their act.


6:52 PM  
Anonymous Roldo Bartimole said...


How can you guarantee that whoever makes decisions to ban one writer may not ban the writer you favor?

What you're advising could mean that the Grapevine should be banned, or my writing, or that Sy Hersh should be banned, or that I. F. Stone would have been banned - based upon who was making the decision.

Who is going to decide?

The first amendment insures freedom of the press. I like it that way. I've spent my life depending upon it. But it doesn't say it's going to be the press you or I favor.

American journalism has always been rowdy and, hopefully, will get more rowdy.

Take on scummy Ch. 19 some other way. I know you can do it.

7:52 PM  
Blogger John Ettorre said...

Brian, I apologize if I sounded condescending. But I suppose I was just a little shocked at what such an otherwise progressive person seems to be suggesting--censoring those who don't cover something the way they want. Intelligent people don't put much, if any, stock in what idiot culture tabloid programs like Ch. 19 "news" says. It has very little credibility, and I think most people understand that. So I say you should either just ignore it, or perhaps use your considerable organizational ability to mount a boycott.

As a matter of fact, I do worry about how crap passing itself off as serious news and information (beginning with the egregious Fox network) is polluting things. We just disagree on what to do about it.

8:16 PM  
Blogger Homeless Grapevine said...

I am not suggesting that you or the Grapevine not be allowed to write or comment or express yourself in the marketplace of ideas. No one would be banned and no one would be subject to government oversight.

All I am suggesting is that the people who abide by standards and do not use their influence to attack the powerless get to be called journalists. The others can write whatever they want, but they do not get the title. It is a small step to try and protect our democracy. It is worse than just an annoyance or being scummy or polluting. These so called journalists are spreading hate, fear and jealousy while winning news emmys and becoming the number one news station in the area.


9:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

First they came for the conservative journalists, but I was not a conservative journalist...

5:12 AM  

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