Sunday, November 8, 2009

Should Citizen Journalists be trained?

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.


Anonymous said...

While everyone should learn their trade, I don't think we should ever go anywhere near anything that turns into a "license" for either reporters or journalism schools. Too much danger of the licensing authority slanting the news. Besides, some finge or minority could have a differing view of the nature of "proper" journalism. And, excentrics are sometimes right. Not often, but it has happened. I'm glad there are some absolutes in the Constitution, like freedom of speech.

Of course, even that isn't quite absolute -- as you mentioned in regard to libel. Our country is nowhere near as bad as many others in this respect, but still I wish there wasn't such a thing. The possible harm to reputations would be more than balanced out by the reduction of the "chilling effect" of the fear of libel.

I know I have never written anything which could possibly stand up in court as libel. Yet I have, many times, had an editor reject a letter or column I have written, criticizing the actions of some public official, giving concern about libel as the reason (or perhaps excuse).

Terry Franklin

LarryK4 said...

Yeah, you seem to get people riled up on the privately owned Amherst Town Meeting listserve as well.

But at least you have not been blackballed like me. Although I have to wonder about how I got censored and Adrian Durlester, the "Jewish Educator, Jewish Musician, Jewish Blogger" with some of his slightly incendiary remarks has not.

Anonymous said...

Good points here....







LarryK4 said...

Hmmm...nice punctuation. Tom Wolfe I presume???!!!

Cambias said...

This is one of the few times I have to say you're absolutely wrong.

We have "certified" journalists -- the employees of national and local media companies, who have journalism degrees and belong to professional associations and were hired for their journalistic qualifications.

And they are driving journalism into extinction.

What we need are more citizen journalists, more eccentric bloggers, a chaotic bazaar of ideas and reporting in which no story will go overlooked because of J-school groupthink or the drive for ratings.

Will there be sloppy, biased reporting? Of course -- but we've got that already! Maybe with more voices, some of them will try to be rigorous and honest. I know it's probably a vain hope, but we sure aren't seeing that now.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Name Calling is the victim of blackballing? Get off it. It's the old school bully who when caught cries "why me?" Try looking at your own behaviour if you want the answer. Pointing at someone else and saying, "He did it too," didn't work even in third grade.

Rick said...

…the ones that garner attention and make a difference will be those who take themselves seriously and exude that in everything they do.

I wish that were true, but…

News used to be subsidized – as the loss leader of all the networks, and on the newspaper side, funded by the cash cow of classified advertising.

Then news became entertainment and whoever could cover the most "entertaining" event the most – even a wardrobe malfunction – was the winner.

It’s not really journalists who have messed up news, its “news as entertainment” that has messed it up.

Blogging doesn’t fix that. It may even make it worse.

Perhaps we will get better news when the public gets more interested in learning the facts that in being entertained. Don’t hold your breath.