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‘Legitimate’ is the new ‘professional’ (for journalists and for everyone)

March 2, 2010

One of my great struggles in trying to convert Old Print journalists to New Media is convincing them that their old ways of determining professionalism and trustworthiness no longer apply. You can’t assume information is good just because it comes from a newspaper and you can’t assume information is bad just because it comes from a blog (or Twitter feed, or…).

This is also a source of great frustration. Whatever happened to the j-school adage, “If your mother says she loves you, check it out”? Why don’t more newspapers apply this standard to each other (this?)?

I have a few theories of course—journalists fear losing whatever “specialness” they have left; journalists don’t want to put themselves on the same plane as mere bloggers; etc.—but I can’t say that any of them are of any real use in convincing journalists of this one, crucial point:

Being a professional-in-title journalist has nothing to do with being a journalist.

Or, as Jay Rosen puts it:

…I am sure you noticed that among my eight key terms for determining legitimacy in journalism one does not find such things as: objectivity, professionalism, “code of ethics,” balance, getting paid, being incorporated as a commercial business, working full time at newsgathering, eschewing opinion, bearing a press pass, or getting certified by the (journalistic) powers that be.

These are shortcuts, and taking shortcuts is not… legitimate!

This blanket “bloggers aren’t journalists” mentality is stupid. The faulty logic involved—some bloggers spread bad information, so they all spread bad information—is, for starters, ignorant and classist. It’s also hypocritical: If traditional news organizations are such spotless pillars of integrity, they ought to be disparaged twice as much as bloggers for every Jayson Blair or Zachary Kouwe that slips through.

But again, I haven’t made any headway in how to get this across. I feel like that’s an important thing to do, too, because people’s news habits are changing rapidly (emphasis on Point 4) and now, more than ever, we need journalists not only producing good journalism, but curating the news and pointing us to other sources of good journalism.

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