Are You Licensed To Chill?

As news shifts increasingly toward bottom-up management processes, citizen journalism and the use of distributed methods of reporting, there are a few people who seem determined to turn back the clock, not just to the days before the internet, but maybe even to the days before journalism as we know it.

You have to have a license to drive, and you have to have a license for your dog. Sex offenders have to register.

Now someone thinks that journalists should be registered, too. Sadly, this someone isn’t just some random doofus off the street, but Bruce Patterson, a state-level senator in Michigan, who wants to start a voluntary "registration" program for journalists in his state. Someone, in other words, who has at least some small chance of actually getting this done.

Before you get your undies in a bundle, though, registering as a journalist would be completely voluntary, and you could still cover Michigan politics without being registered. Thus being registered would seem to be… pointless, actually.

Here’s an excerpt of the Fox News story on what it would take to be registered:

According to the bill, reporters who register will have to pay an application and registration fee and provide a "Board of Michigan Registered Reporters" with proof of:

— "Good moral character” and demonstrate they have industry “ethics standards acceptable to the board.”

— Possession of a degree in journalism or other degree substantially equivalent.

— Not less than 3 years experience as a reporter or any other relevant background information.

— Awards or recognition related to being a reporter.

— Three or more writing samples.

(Read the whole story, written by Jana Winter and published by Fox News, here.)

I don’t know how to prove I have "good moral character." Should I ask my pastor for a reference? My parents aren’t objective enough. My boss could tell you about any number of my traits (keeping toys on my desk, writing quickly on a deadline, loving coffee) but does he really know me well enough to say whether I have "good moral character"? And how good is "good"? Can I occasionally kick a puppy or skip doing dishes in order to go to the movies?

And then there’s the whole problem of "ethics standards acceptable to the board," which makes me wonder how board members are going to be vetted. Will they have philosophy degrees, like I do, or at least some sort of strong academic background in ethics (which I don’t)?

To be a registered journalist, you would have to have a degree in journalism or some other equivalent degree. You know, there are plenty of people out there who have no degree at all and yet make splendid journalists. Not all of them are those nasty, horrible "blogger" things we’ve all been hearing about, either! Some of them work for reputable, respectable publications and are absolutely great reporters. Quelle horreur!

Also note that you would have to have three years of experience in order to register. How exactly do they expect you to start out with three years of experience? May I point out that you need to actually work as a journalist to have three years of experience as a journalist?

And there’s the whole "three or more writing samples" bit. Apparently they don’t realize that with journalists, you’re going to need to put an upper limit on it, especially for the full-timers who write a story or two a day. Otherwise you stand the risk of getting huge binders full of writing.

Patterson apparently feels he could retire and be a journalist. While I don’t necessarily agree or disagree with this statement, it really got me thinking.

Maybe when I retire I should go and be a lawmaker in Michigan.

3 Responses

  1. Bob

    I don’t think the ‘registering journalists’ has much of a chance of becoming widespread, but you understand the unerlying point, don’t you Kari? There is so much garbage on the internet written by ‘citizen journalists’ and apparently this senator got fed up. I bet it was something personal that he read on the internet.

  2. Logan C. Adams

    Voluntary registration of journalists is just the first step to mandatory registration of journalists. The next logical step is government control of who gets journalism licenses, and who gets them taken away for angering the wrong politician.

    You become a journalist by acting like one. What decides whether you can continue being a journalist is whether enough people are willing to pay attention to you. It’s effectively a public check on government power.

    The only journalist’s registration I have is my North Dakota Newspaper Association membership card, and my Jamestown Sun credentials. That’s all I need.

  3. Kari Lucin

    I do understand the point.

    But there’s also a lot of garbage written by professional writers available freely at the public library (check the Harlequin romance section if you don’t believe it). Do we then register novelists?

    Distinguishing quality by the medium (online vs. print) or pay method (paid content vs. ad-supported vs. pledge supported like MPR) is really not a good method.

    There are great citizen journalists and poor ones, just like there are great pro journalists and poor ones.

    You’re right, though. I don’t see this movement gaining traction, and not just because I don’t want to keep the tags on my collar current and go to the vet’s office for my shots and worm pills every year…

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