Monday, 24 February 2003

Who's a journalist?

Donald Sensing reflects on that question in response to his experience on a Nashville morning radio show on Friday. Donald makes two interesting statements:

  • Journalism is a job, not a profession. In fact, I have extensive formal journalism training, and I can tell you that there is no particular skill to it that is particularly difficult or unobtainable by average people.

  • There is no "accountability" of journalists in any meaningful sense. There is no equivalent of a bar exam for journalists. There is no licensing procedure for journalists. There is no minimum education level required, nor any particular special kind of training at all. Fill out an employment application, get hired at minimum wage or better, and presto, you're a journalist. Or just take a pad and pencil, call some folks on the phone and do some interviews, and you're a journalist, too.

I've wandered in and out of journalism in my life — I started a short-lived student newspaper in school in Britain, spent two years writing and copy editing for the teen section of the Ocala Star-Banner, and wrote for The Rose Thorn. But, I've never taken a formal journalism class in my life, and I'm not sure one would need to take a journalism class to be a good journalist. The key qualification is the ability to write clearly; the rest can be learned with a copy of the AP Stylebook and by paying attention to a copy editor — in essence, learning on the job.

The bigger question is: is this journalism? It's not reporting; it's more like the opinion page, or perhaps what the New York Times might call “news analysis” (which increasingly look quite similar). There is some first-person reportage here, most notably in the Roadgeekery category, but that's in the distinct minority. Rather, this weblog (and most weblogs) leverage traditional journalism mostly to have something to talk about, rather than engaging in reporting. But, consider this definition, from Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913):

  1. The keeping of a journal or diary. [Obs.]

  2. The periodical collection and publication of current news; the business of managing, editing, or writing for, journals or newspapers; as, political journalism.

Clearly, this blog, like many others, engages in the “periodical collection and publication of current news,” regardless of whether that news is on the conduct of university professors at USF or how Moxie's blind date went on Friday night (after all, newspapers have “society” pages). So I guess blogging is journalism. Sort of.

Bill Hobbs has some worthwhile thoughts on the subject, and he should know.