Journalists as Professionals
Let us benevolently stipulate that journalism is a profession.
Is there any other profession that requires such a low level of skill to enter? Journalists fancy themselves the equal of doctors, lawyers, and chief executives. This is evidenced by the multiplicity of journalism graduate schools and the importance that students, graduates, and faculty of those schools place on their ability to train future journalists. The implication is that one must go through the "rigor" of such programs to come out at the other end a certified professional journalist.
The degree of difficulty of any profession should be measured by how challenging it would be for a dilettante to come in and do the job. Could the average journalist walk into a hospital and perform surgery? Could the average journalist walk into a courtroom and prosecute a case? Could the average journalist walk into a design studio and turn out a brand new car model? No, no, no. But it is not much of a stretch to think that most anyone in those professions could turn out decent journalism and, in fact, better than what passes for journalism in this country.
The fundamental principles of journalism can be learned and honed by the average high school sophomore. The basics are simple. Find out and relay the who, what, when, and why of a story. Write a lead (or lede, if you prefer) that captures the essence of the story and the attention of the reader. Quote and attribute exactly. Get multiple sources for any claims or assertions. Use a telephone. Use a recorder. Dig. Question and be skeptical of all sides. Turn the story in on time. And never insert oneself and one's biases into that story.
Last night's debate was merely the most recent iteration of the American press corps inserting themselves into a story and defining the story's narrative -- the deification, perpetuation of the myth, and rooting interest in the political success of Barack Obama. AT's Nidra Poller adroitly sums up the grotesque performance of CNN's Candy Crowley in attempting to shut down Mitt Romney so that her candidate could spin his fairy tales, despite Crowley's too-late admission that Romney was "right in the main." But the damage had been done, the latest transaction between client and service provider completed. Most anyone not "trained" as a professional journalist yet interested in the truth would have been able to do a better job.
Once during a post-game press conference, former college basketball coach Bob Knight corrected a young reporter who inadvertently asked him about something that occurred on the "field" during the basketball game that had just been played. Knight told the reporter that when covering a basketball game it is important to remember that the playing surface is called a "court."
"I try to help you young people," Knight said, "who have chosen this profession that's one or two steps above prostitution."
Not for Candy Crowley is that separation. She proved that, during the second U.S. presidential debate of 2012, she was the lady of the night.
Matthew May welcomes comments at email@example.com