Well of course there should be training! But then the question becomes who does the training?
The Umass on-line certificate program is of course a good start because it sets minimum standards that allow motivated individuals to tap into a proven brand name for journalism.
But once that training camel gets its nose under the tent, are you going to have government certification required?
In Massachusetts a hair stylist needs 1,000 hours of training and must past a test for a state license. The state legislature is now talking about licensing personal trainers at health clubs and massage therapists. As a health fitness professional (with a degree in Exercise Science/Sport Mgt) I would actually support both of those because someone with inadequate training could potentially hurt a paying client.
What is a “journalist”? Simply somebody who works for a mainstream media outlet and gets paid, or volunteers for a college newspaper, senior center quarterly or high school yearbook? And can their lack of training cause damage? Of course it can.
We have laws against libel/slander for an aggrieved party to seek retribution against a news outlet that publishes something a cub reporter failed to fact check and does damage to an innocent persons reputation.
But we also have something in a freewheeling, market driven system called “let the buyer beware.” If you act upon information gleamed from a Citizen Journalism site that nobody has ever heard of operated by anonymous contributors and it looks like it was designed by a pimple faced high school kid then you deserve to absorb whatever damage inflicted.
Chances are any site that consistently attracts eyeballs –especially enough for the owners to generate revenue from advertisers—must be doing something right.
Most karate schools have a color belt program so you can tell who is the beginner (white belts) and who are the more highly trained experts (brown and black belts). Schools that have lousy standards (selling the higher belts as long as the check clears) usually don’t last as students eventually figure it out.
Perhaps one way for government to ease into this fray is to make it mandatory that any news outlet that puts out their hand for a government subsidy (either tax exempt, non-profit status or outright stimulus funding) must have minimum training standards and a certification program for all reporters and editors.
Information gathering is easier if the sources know they can trust the reporter and the entity they represent. Although Woodward and Bernstein were not the most experienced reporters at the Washington Post the rock solid reputation of the newspaper itself more than made up for that.
While anyone can start a blog and call themselves a “journalist”, the ones that garner attention and make a difference will be those who take themselves seriously and exude that in everything they do.
Training and certification is just another step (leap) forward on the road to mainstream acceptance.