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Needed: Regulation to Prevent Journalists-Turned-Professors from Embarrassing Themselves

It’s hard to know where to begin in responding to David Hazinski’s “Unfettered ‘citizen journalism’ too risky,” an op-ed in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where he calls for regulation of citizen journalism:

Supporters of “citizen journalism” argue it provides independent, accurate, reliable information that the traditional media don’t provide. While it has its place, the reality is it really isn’t journalism at all, and it opens up information flow to the strong probability of fraud and abuse. The news industry should find some way to monitor and regulate this new trend.

It is false, of course, that anyone who’s serious about this field argues that it’s entirely accurate or reliable (though it is often independent, and often covers what traditional media can’t or won’t spend time on). In fact, as many of us have been noting for years, accuracy and reliability are key areas for improvement.

Then, having kindly allowed that this new media “has its place” — use the servant’s entrance, please — Hazinski removes it entirely from the realm of journalism, which is literally absurd.

And then, with the kind of hubris that sounds like a lampoon of a Big Media Guy turned professor, he demands that the news industry regulate it all. (Could they first turn some of that regulatory sternness on themselves? More on that in a minute.)

Let’s note the one sound point in his generally bizarre piece: To the extent that traditional media organizations are going to bring their audiences into their journalism processes, they should insist doing things in an honorable and journalistically sound way. If he’d left it at that, Hazinski would have had a reasonable argument. But with dismaying lapses in fact and logic, he goes much further.

For example, consider this:

The premise of citizen journalism is that regular people can now collect information and pictures with video cameras and cellphones, and distribute words and images over the Internet. Advocates argue that the acts of collecting and distributing makes these people “journalists.” This is like saying someone who carries a scalpel is a “citizen surgeon” or someone who can read a law book is a “citizen lawyer.” Tools are merely that. Education, skill and standards are really what make people into trusted professionals. Information without journalistic standards is called gossip.

The bogus logic is standard-issue for the naysayers. Unpacking it:

First, no one involved in citizen media is arguing that every posting of a photo, or every blog post, or ever video, is journalism. Nor would we argue that the people doing these things are journalists. But anyone — anyone — can commit an act of journalism using these tools. (And, as Hazinski fails to notice, there’s a heck of a lot of actual, no-kidding journalism going on out there in the blogosphere and other conversational media, some of it by people who have probably never been in a newsroom.)

Hazinski treads on the thinnest ice when he compares journalists with surgeons and lawyers, people who go to school for years and pass extremely difficult tests to earn the right to practice. There has never been such a requirement in journalism — ever. Nor should there be, for several reasons including the fact that a) some of the best journalists have never taken a college course on the subject; b) the skills required are simply not that hard to learn; and c) journalism is not a profession in the sense of being a lawyer or doctor. Journalism is a craft — a valuable and honorable one, but still a craft.

The analogy is absurd even if we pretend that journalism is a profession. We don’t go to the doctor (at least I don’t) to remove a splinter. We take a pin, sterilize it with flame and/or alcohol and remove it ourselves. We have, at some level, done a minor act of surgery.

And we don’t go to a lawyer when we lend money to a relative, or sign some kinds of agreements. We have a contract nonetheless, because some things with legal ramifications are simple enough to do ourselves.

Hazinski proceeds into baffling territory as he continues:

But unlike those other professions, journalism — at least in the United States — has never adopted uniform self-regulating standards. There are commonly accepted ethical principals (sic)— two source confirmation of controversial information or the balanced reporting of both sides of a story, for example, but adhering to the principals (sic) is voluntary. There is no licensing, testing, mandatory education or boards of review. Most other professions do a poor job of self-regulation, but at least they have mechanisms to regulate themselves. Journalists do not.

So without any real standards, anyone has a right to declare himself or herself a journalist. Major media outlets also encourage it. Citizen journalism allows them to involve audiences, and it is a free source of information and video. But it is also ripe for abuse.

The logic of all this (not to mention the spelling; doesn’t the Atlanta newspaper employ copy editors?) is completely escapable.

Having said journalism has standards, all of a sudden journalism really doesn’t have any real standards. Ah, you see, it’s that the standards are not written. Except, of course, that just about every major media organization has an internal code of ethics and behavior (usually in writing), and organizations like the Society of Professional Journalists has elaborately crafted codes, too. Except, as well, that (as Hazinski notes) those other real professions are famous for not enforcing their own rules.

Has Hazinski failed to notice that these abuses are all too common even in traditional media, which (at least most of the Washington variety) have served as stenographers instead of actual journalists? Is he aware that the media have been conned by experts for decades or longer?

Of course citizen media is leading to fakery and cons. The fakers and con artists use whatever works. And, yes, there will be a video that inflames public opinion and turns out to be a fake. There have already been stock swindles based on fake online press releases.

Hazinski’s remedies start off making some sense, at least those applied to the news industry. It’s definitely a good idea for traditional media organizations to verify what goes out under their banners or on their programming. Even better, as he suggests, they should apply those standards to their own work.

It’s also fine to suggest that journalism schools offer courses to citizen journalists. But the granting of certifications is a bit weird. Who’s that for? The media company? People who grant press passes? Beats me.

In the end, taking his logic on yet another S-curve, Hazinski calls for the regulation not just of citizen journalists but all journalists. So who’s going to be responsible for this regulation, anyway? I think he’s asking for self-regulation, which he has acknowleged doesn’t work very well with doctors and lawyers. But he doesn’t really say.

The regulators of speech should be all of us, collectively voting with our eyes, ears and dollars in the fabled marketplace of ideas. New tools coming along will give us better ways to do that in a Digital Age than we’ve had in the analog one, a good thing when the data out there is orders of magnitude greater and, so far, more difficult to sort for the good stuff.

The media industry and journalism educators do have a valuable role to play in all this. It’s to teach media literacy for a media-saturated world. That is not about regulation or do-it-this-way standards. It’s about helping media audiences and creators alike to understand how media and persuasion work.
For journalists, citizen or otherwise, it is very much about principles, and ultimately honor. For the audiences, we need to instill deep, critical thinking and a solid grasp of media techniques.

Let’s regulate ourselves to end up with a diverse, vibrant journalistic ecosystem that serves and informs us.

31 Comments on “Needed: Regulation to Prevent Journalists-Turned-Professors from Embarrassing Themselves”

  1. #1 Blue Crab Boulevard » Unfettered “Journalism” Professors Too Risky
    on Dec 13th, 2007 at 8:18 pm

    […] Center for Citizen Media Blog: Then, having kindly allowed that this new media “has its place” — use the servant’s entrance, please — he removes it entirely from the realm of journalism, which is literally absurd. […]

  2. #2 Fiona Hinds
    on Dec 13th, 2007 at 8:55 pm

    Note to the powerful:
    The dangerous thing about literacy for the ‘masses’ is that the masses can now use it to express themselves, instead of relying on a minority of ‘literate’ people to do it for them, as they did in the past.
    What a relief.
    Finally, the ‘truth’ will out, and not a spun variation of the truth, which is ‘mainstream’ media.
    We need to get back to community stories, talking about the things that matter to communities, and inject some good news into what is depressingly gloomy.
    We need hope in this world gone mad on drugs, violence, poverty ….. you know the stuff. There are great and good things going on in our communities, and we need to tell everyone about it.
    So it’s not ground breaking journalism or and sometimes its not particularly good ‘literature’ – but neither is mainstream journalism. When was the last time you read a ‘professional journalists’ work and wanted to carry it around with you because the beauty of it moved you to emotion?
    But some of it is. And the stories are real. And I want more of it.
    Thanks for your article.

  3. #3 barry
    on Dec 13th, 2007 at 9:26 pm

    no such thing as a freelance surgeon either!

  4. #4 Mark "Rizzn" Hopkins
    on Dec 14th, 2007 at 2:48 am

    Much more in depth de-bunking than I went into. I was so floored by his hubris that I almost didn’t know where to start.

  5. #5 Seth Finkelstein
    on Dec 14th, 2007 at 3:43 am

    Umm, remember what you just posted about a few items ago? The political flack who said: “I mean, talk about a direct IV into the vein of your support. It’s a very efficient way to communicate. They regurgitate exactly and put up on their blogs what you said to them. It is something that we’ve cultivated and have really tried to put quite a bit of focus on.”

  6. #6 Blogflict» Blog Archive » Citizen journalists: They don’t need to be regulated
    on Dec 14th, 2007 at 6:03 am

    […] Yesterday on Blogflict, we blogged about the David Hazinski article, and took a critical viewpoint.  Many other bloggers joined in and were equally if not more critical. […]

  7. #7 Dan Gillmor
    on Dec 14th, 2007 at 6:21 am

    That item was mainly ironic, Seth. Anyone who read the work of the bloggers in question already knew they were channeling the party line. Hell, they all but admitted it. That’s hardly a con when it’s so transparent.

  8. #8 Garbanzo
    on Dec 14th, 2007 at 7:11 am

    What a crock!

    Whenever you read one of those articles about the newspaper industry sliding down, inevitably there’s one of those “this is the end of the First Amendment as we know it” quotes. Puh-lease!! Journalism isn’t law, or medicine, or even accounting, where’s there is a highly technical and structured body of knowledge — it’s people telling stories in a compelling manner (or sometimes not). Oh, and there are ethics (or maybe not, depending on the organization).

    If anything, the digital revolution has shown the media industry for what it is: a bunch of folks who simply get paid for writing, as opposed to the rest of us who do it for pleasure or as a component of our jobs. Training optional — lots of people who are good writers never “trained” other than writing a lot. And finally, this elitist attitude also perpetuates the insularity of newsroom management — ever see a senior editor (EIC, ME, etc.) who didn’t spend his/her entire professional life in a newsroom? Follow-up question is look at senior managers in other industries and ask the same question. The answer is that smart people move horizontally all the time — sales VPs become CIOs, CFOs become business unit heads, lawyers become everything. Let’s put a superior marketer in the role of editor at a newspaper and see what happens. Can’t be any worse than what’s happening now.

  9. #9   Le chirurgien citoyen | goudaille
    on Dec 14th, 2007 at 7:49 am

    […] “coiffeur citoyen” (remarquez que le potentiel de danger est assez bas, ici), voici que Dan Gillmor répond à un type qui propose de règlementer la pratique du journalisme citoyen, et qui évoque entre […]

  10. #10 Wenalway
    on Dec 14th, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    That essay made no sense. The newspapers can’t even police themselves, much less the citizens.

    But what can you expect from today’s newsrooms? They’re largely a mix of has-beens and never-will-bes. The aging, declining folk wanted to defend their turf, so they were afraid of hiring the sharp youngsters a decade ago. But now that the dodo birds are ready to use their golden parachutes, they’ve thrown open the doors to all the youngsters. And the cheaper, the better — that lets the old folks grab some more cash as they bail on their legacy of underperformance.

    The failings of today’s political journalism are but a drop in the bucket of the warped policies that pervade the rotting newsrooms packed with liars and gutless wonders. The “management” structure far too often consists of a dollar-focused publisher; a lazy, shiftless, dim bulb of a managing editor who hasn’t had an idea in years; a couple of city “editors” who haven’t read past the lede in years; and an AME of presentation who knows about little more than the width of the hairline rules.

    Here’s hoping the rise of technology will flatten these fossils in the near future. As an added bonus, maybe we’ll also rid ourselves of that millstone known as AP, which needs 15-18 write-thrus to get a 4-inch brief right and employs too many overcaffeinated, one-dimensional, “I work so hard” numbskulls who’d have a tough time passing a fifth-grade spelling test.

  11. #11 Jon Garfunkel
    on Dec 14th, 2007 at 3:24 pm

    As you quoted the brilliant Josh Marshall in August:

    I grant you that the blogosphere needs better bloggers. But, as usual, the need for better critics seems even more acute.

  12. #12 Brian Rapp
    on Dec 14th, 2007 at 10:40 pm

    Hazinski’s just pissed that bloggers are stealing his audience. Guess what, Hazinski. You should’ve learned a lesson from the American auto industry of the 1970s: if you put out crap a product, people will stop buying it. The traditional media doesn’t deserve respect or an audience any more. They’ve turned into profit centers and gave up their integrity in the process. They don’t serve the function the public wants. Here’s a cluestick: we want investigative journalism, not entertainment. We want you to call bullshit when it’s fed to you instead of printing it because it’s “the other side of the story.”

  13. #13 Chris Amico
    on Dec 14th, 2007 at 10:50 pm

    Maybe what we really need to regulate is tenure. How can someone write this and still be teaching journalism?

  14. #14 Rhadamanthus
    on Dec 14th, 2007 at 11:16 pm

    They say every species can smell its own extinction. Perhaps David Hazinski’s getting worried his job will become irrelevant as the unwashed masses gain more power. 😉

    I see blogs as the newer, more specific version of local newspapers. They may individually have a smaller readership, but globally, they’re everywhere. You can pick and choose which ones you’ll read — because they cover what you want to read; the news you find important.

    Yes, that may mean you’re reading news with a bias. But to think that blogs have as much influence as mainstream media with a bias is just foolish. Have a look at how Fox’News’ and the likes of Rush Limbaugh have kept 34% of the U.S. population in the dark.

    I feel sad for Mr. Hazinski, and his blindered view of the world. I feel sad for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for making the assumption that someone with Hazinski’s profession is an astute observer of his chosen field. Most of all, I feel sad for the students who have to ‘learn’ from him at University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism.

  15. #15 J.
    on Dec 15th, 2007 at 7:37 am

    These days, everyone wants to claim they are professionals. There are only three professions: Medicine, Law, and Clergy.

  16. #16 Dan Kennedy
    on Dec 15th, 2007 at 8:48 am

    The most important reason that journalism is an unregulated craft as opposed to a licensed profession is that it would be an outrage to the Constitution. The First Amendment is for all of us, not just journalists. Justice Byron White, in his otherwise troublesome opinion in Branzburg v. Hayes, wrote a lovely passage about the “lonely pamphleteer” having every bit as much protection as large newspaper publishers.

    One thing I’d like to point out is that the phony professional/amateur debate breaks down when you look at tiny, independent weekly papers of the sort that used to exist everywhere, and that still continue to thrive here and there. Properly understood, such papers are often examples of citizen journalism, published by local people who never went to journalism school but who are nevertheless filling a vital need in their communities.

    For some reason, when you add the Internet to the argument, normally sensible people start to wig out. Folks like David Hazinski need to take a deep breath and remind themselves that not all journalists work for large organizations like the AJC.

  17. #17 Hey, where’s your journalism licence? - -
    on Dec 15th, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    […] David “DigiDave” Cohn (who got it from Dan Gillmor), I came across a mind-boggling piece of commentary from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in which […]

  18. #18 Hey, where’s your journalism licence? - -
    on Dec 15th, 2007 at 4:32 pm

    […] David “DigiDave” Cohn (who got it from Dan Gillmor), I came across a mind-boggling piece of commentary from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in which […]

  19. #19 Seth Finkelstein
    on Dec 16th, 2007 at 2:45 am

    Dan (Gillmore), you know the issues Hazinski’s raising, you’ve made some of the same points yourself. Doesn’t the slavering demogoguery aspect of the reaction tell you something? :-(.

    Note my point a while back as to why Andr3w K33n is created – because anyone not playing the games he’s playing, gets treated to this sort of frothing mob attack. Which leaves only him around, because he’s feeding off it, while thoughtful critics get driven out.

  20. #20 JackNYC
    on Dec 16th, 2007 at 7:58 am

    Deregulate The Corporations!
    Regulate The People!


  21. #21 Dan Gillmor
    on Dec 16th, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    Seth, I think you contradict yourself. As you note, I raise these same points — but (I believe) more fairly and accurately and with context — and the “mob” doesn’t try to shout me down. I consider myself a thoughtful critic, and no one’s driven me out.

    The “slavering demogoguery” (I think it’s somewhat milder than that, and it’s certainly not much more repellent than the piece it responds to) only tells me that some folks prefer to shout. I ignore the shouters.

  22. #22 Seth Finkelstein
    on Dec 16th, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    Ah, but Dan, you are an A-lister, a conference-clubber, so you don’t work well as a Symbol Of All That Is Evil. It wouldn’t be very effective (at this stage!) for other A-listers to try to use you that way, no matter what you say. Thus, far from being a contradiction, this shows it’s all about baiting the crowd, not substance.

    People outside that inner circle are in a different social situation. And people who can be used as The Enemy, different yet.

    The shouters can make it difficult for quiet people to be heard, and a screaming mob can be initmidating (tedious note – this is meant as metaphor, not literal).

  23. #23 Delia
    on Dec 17th, 2007 at 10:37 am

    Dan, I thought I posted a comment to this entry (it’s unclear to me if it just went missing or it didn’t display for a different reason). D.

  24. #24 JohnofScribbleSheet
    on Dec 17th, 2007 at 11:08 am

    “Supporters of “citizen journalism” argue it provides independent, accurate, reliable information that the traditional media don’t provide.”

    Is this even the case? I dont know anyone involved in citizen journalism who has said it always provides the above. Now David is just putting words in people’s mouths.

  25. #25 The Meck Deck » Blog Archive » Certify “Citizen Journalists?”
    on Dec 17th, 2007 at 2:28 pm

    […] ‘citizen journalism’ too risky, which has already been nuked from space by an ace technology writer and by a leader in the citizen journalism […]

  26. #26 Remains of the day, 12-17-07 | Writes Like She Talks
    on Dec 17th, 2007 at 9:07 pm

    […] all citizen journalists to them) and Dan Gillmor’s takedown of Hazinski (titled, “Needed: Regulation to Prevent Journalists-Turned-Professors from Embarrassing Themselves), you need to stop what you’re doing and read both […]

  27. #27 Jikomboe » David Hazinski: Uandishi wa Raia si lolote, si chochote
    on Dec 19th, 2007 at 2:05 am

    […] hapa usome makala nzima ya David Hazinski na bonyeza hapa usome majibu toka kwa Dan Gilmor. […]

  28. #28 Eyes East: A blog about Dalian and Northeast China » Blog Archive » Citizen journalism for an unharmonious world
    on Dec 19th, 2007 at 4:17 am

    […] Put aside that regulating who gets to report and publish flies the face of the First Amendment. Congress can’t, and the media certainly can’t. So arguing that either should sounds a bit pointless. But hold off on that for a moment. (Or, if you really want a blow-by-blow fisking, read Dan Gillmor’s take). […]

  29. #29 Robin 'Roblimo' Miller
    on Dec 19th, 2007 at 8:47 am

    This whole “citizen journalism” antagonism is amusing to me. I was a perfectly fine, happy local freelance feature and investigative reporter in the Baltimore area before I jumped to the WWW and suddenly became a “citizen journalist.”

    We’re already starting to see a few “citizen journalists” join the mainstream media, and this movement will accelerate in the future. We may also see more local news stringers drawn from their ranks.

    At least. I hope so. Case in point: a local (Bradenton, FL) newspaper editor recently lamented on her blog about the “danger” into which she was sending a young crime reporter she assigned to cover two murders in a low-income neighborhood where she was a stranger among potentially hostile people. With a well-developed network of stringers (essentially “citizen journalists”) on retainer, Little Miss White Bread could have had a local guide to help her find her way around the low-income (euphemism for “black”) neighborhood where the murders took place and help fill her learn what led to the shootings. The newspaper would have had better and deeper stories, and Miss White Bread and the White Bread Editor would not have had to deal with as much fear; it’s always safer to go on safari amongst the savages with a Native Guide at your side, right? 🙂

    And if the traditional media outlets don’t want to work with the
    “natives” (who may be members of any group to which middle-class journalism grads have no close ties, from ghetto residents to FOSS devotees), the “natives can and will set up their own means of news gathering and distribution, which will leave the traditional media right where they are now: in a state of shrinkage, consolidation, and fear.

    Happy holiday! 🙂

    – Robin

  30. #30 Build the Echo » Blog Archive » links for 2007-12-19
    on Dec 19th, 2007 at 9:25 am

    […] Center for Citizen Media: Blog » Blog Archive » Needed: Regulation to Prevent Journalists-Turned-P… (tags: citizen_journalism buildtheecho) […]

  31. #31 » linkdump for 2007.12.19
    on Dec 19th, 2007 at 12:17 pm

    […] Dan Gilmor: Needed: Regulation to Prevent Journalists-Turned-Professors from Embarrassing Themselves The citizen media maven makes some compelling arguments against the idea that journalism is a profession. I tend to agree, although things like the Newspaper Guild and governmental press passes to create boundaries between the press and the public. ( tags: journalism citizensmedia) […]