Friday, December 14, 2007

Another Traditional Journalism Stuffed Shirt Feeling Threatened by Bloggers

A University of Georgia journalism professor named David Hazinski has an opinion piece a screed in today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution, titled "Unfettered 'citizen journalism' too risky." Patronizing and arrogant doesn't begin to cover it.

You're beginning to get a lot more news ... from you.

It ranges from the CNN YouTube debates to political blogs to cellphone video of that sniper who opened fire at an Omaha Mall. These are all examples of so called "citizen journalism," the hot new extension of the news business where the audience becomes the reporter.

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.

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.

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.

First things first. Shouldn't a journalism professor know how to spell the word "principles" when he's talking about standards, and not the occupant of the office you're sent to when you get into trouble in school? I mean, if he's going to lecture bloggers about fact-checking and substantiation, seems to me the least he can do is fact-check and substantiate his own spelling against a dictionary.

Moving on to the meat of Hazinski's complaint, about "journalistic standards" and "substantiating citizen-contributed information," I refer you to this Dec. 8 blog post by the excellent albeit unbought journalist/blogger, Dave Neiwert, about the manner in which the Washington Post's ombudsman, Deborah Howell, responded to reader complaints about a Nov. 29 piece by Perry Bacon that misreported persistent -- and false -- rumors that Barack Obama is a Muslim. Here is a brief quote:
The Washington Post's ombudsman, Deborah Howell, could be found whining in her column today about the meanies who seem to be upset about the paper's misreportage of rumors surrounding Barack Obama's Muslim background:
Hamilton said, "Reasonable people can disagree on this. But the people I have heard from are not reasonable. What I find especially disheartening is the idea that our motives are simply assumed to have been malicious."

This is the new world mainstream journalists live in, one that will continue to be explored in this column.

What people like Howell, and Hamilton, and a whole horde of their mainstream-media cohorts, just don't seem to get is that this "new world" is a world they made.

The profession of journalism has a real problem: at its highest and most powerful levels, its practitioners have become immune to anything resembling real accountability -- and their abuses are piling up because of it. Abuses are nothing new, but neither is some modicum of accountability; yet nowadays, when they happen at powerhouses like the Washington Post and the New York Times and CNN, no one is held accountable.

They keep running the same congenitally wrong pundits, keep churning out the same Village mentality reporting, and most of all, they keep pretending that their bad, misleading, and false reportage really is nothing important. Sure they make a few mistakes, but hey, they're just trying to do their job -- because, after all, facts are just a matter of opinion, right?

Their consumers have just about had enough of it. Obviously, the perpetrators never like being called out, but if they're looking for someone to blame, the mirror is a good place to start.

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