|At the risk of oversimplification, “open-source journalism” can
be thought of as the technique of newsgathering, fact-checking, and
news dissemination on the part of a wide variety of people, without
necessary application of some stringent rules of Western journalism.
Whereas news gathering has long been the domain of trained news
reporters and editors -- with the goal of presentation of objective facts
-- today’s Internet environment includes bloggers and pundits whose
main sourcing of information may well be borrowed or presented with
a subjective agenda .
|Many in the arena of media criticism suggest that open-sourcing
of what should remain empirical social science corrodes the integrity
of information. The argument goes that democracy, for one, cannot
function properly if distortions and shallow observations are allowed
in the public record. Information provision is the sacred duty of those
who observe events firsthand, and who are trained to provide unbiased
viewpoints. Others who attempt it may be merely “backseat drivers”
leading us down the wrong road .
|The question then becomes how information sharing might
be balanced with the evolved standards of empirically-based, fairminded
journalism. The answer may well lie in a practice which has
been condemned for decades in Western thought: The certification or
licensing of journalistic practitioners.
|It is fair to say that there is no stopping the “democracy of
distribution” that we see in philosophies of open-sourcing and
the Digital Commons [3,4]. At the same time, there are legitimate
concerns that misinformation cloaking itself as truth may bend reality
in unfortunate ways.
|Thus, a reappraisal of journalistic licensing should be attempted.
The licensing (conceivably, “certification”) of journalists by a
watchdog non-governmental group would underscore journalism as
a profession with standards to be met, and potentially sanctions to be
employed should newsgathering norms be breached. The standards
would most likely include higher education; journalistic training in
newsgathering, interviewing and writing; passage of standards-based
testing; internships; and perhaps even personal testimony to purity of
goals in news transmission. Were normative standards greatly broken
during actual practice, an individual journalist or editor would stand to
be “disbarred.” In fact, parallels to attorneys and their relationship to bar associations should not be dismissed .
|Much thinking of the 20th century was that licensing amounted to
heavy-handed control of journalists, perhaps through governmental
manipulation of political news reportage . Others have seen a
potential loss of independence among the news media that would
“cheat us out of objective journalism”  and pave the way for a society
blind to the cultural superstructure it has put in place.
|However, the intricate new roles taken on by social media like
Twitter and Facebook make it undeniable that unfettered information
exchange will continue to be robust, if not frequently agenda-driven, on
the part of ordinary citizens. Thus, the ability to distinguish a “branded
and proven” journalist carries new merit in the 21st century. There may
be less detriment in licensing journalists than in not licensing some
body of people who could be entrusted with upholding the torch of
established journalistic norms. An imprimatur of sorts.
|The argument is here made that a professional group -- such as
the Society for Professional Journalists -- could administer accreditation
in the journalistic arts should it choose to. The task need not fall to
government, but to professionals in news provision (as at SPJ) who
could carry the weight of both licensing and censure of journalists
. The mass media universe would be better served if the public
understood that news provision was somewhat safeguarded by the
checks and balances of serious journalists themselves.
- Holesgrove A (2011) “Are We Being Cheated Out of Objective Journalism?” Business Insider.
- Palser B (2005) “Journalism’s Backseat Drivers.” American Journalism Review
- Suber P (2010) “Open Access Overview.”
- Baran S, Davis D (2006) Mass Communication Theory: Foundations, Ferment and Future. (4th Edn) Thomson Education, Belmont, CA.
- Press C, Verburg K (1988) American Politicians and Journalists. Foresman & Co, Boston, Scott.
- Ingram M (2011) “No, Licensing Journalists Isn’t the Answer.”Tech News and Analysis