Monday, November 01, 2010

When I first hit the newsroom, I thought a lot about the media world as a whole. And one early question that struck me was: Why isn't there any certification for journalists? I agree that a broad-based education better prepares individuals to be journalists, but that doesn't take away from the technical aspects of the job.

I was a bit chagrined to realize that the reason is no simpler than...the First Amendment. Journalists have resisted any regulation of the profession because it's too easy for it to constitute a limit to the freedom of speech.

But after my embarrassment subsided, I continued to question the status quo. While I believe it would be certainly unconstitutional to enact legislation banning what many are now calling "citizen journalism," that doesn't prevent the industry from forming its own standards, including some kind of certification showing knowledge of legal issues and industry standards.

This cover story from the Columbia Journalism Review explores this question somewhat, saying the answer to the "critical question" of "the options for public policy reform that might strengthen the media’s contributions to American democracy and civic health" is clear: "We badly require new policies and new thinking in Washington because the media policy regime we have inherited is out of date and inadequate for the times in which we live."

Now, I'm the last person who should be arguing for raising the barrier to entry. I'm currently employed as a journalist with zero formal training. The opportunity changed my life - and I think I have something to offer to the journalism world as well. But at the same time, I am still in the middle of a serious learning curve that affects everything from the structure of my articles to my knowledge of legal issues.

Can policy make a difference? This article in the Guardian may suggest that's so. According to the story, readership is actually growing - in Canada. The article says "...Print and digital readership has risen by 500,000 or so in the past five years. Market penetration in the most important cities ranged between 75% and 80%." It suggests we can learn something from Canada, that they're doing something differently.

Whether it's the economic climate, a question of policy, or a murkier cultural coalescence is very difficult to say. But it seems likely that policy, somewhere along the line, contributes to it.

What do you think of the relationship between policy and journalism? What is it, and what should it be?

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