December 14, 2007

Old Mister Withers Speaks

Readers may have misspent part of their youth watching the cartoon series "Scooby Doo", which (like the Road Runner series) made an entire television show recycling one plot line over and over again. Despite being ghost hunters, they always discovered a hoax, with a typical villain being Old Mister Withers. He would end the episode saying something like, "If it wasn't for those darned kids, I've have gotten away with it!"

Apparently that sentiment extends to journalists. David Hazinski, a former NBC correspondent, decides that he doesn't like those darned kids messing with Journalism. In yesterday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he calls for self-regulation of the news media to shut out bloggers and other consumers from providing content (via Instapundit):

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 — two source confirmation of controversial information or the balanced reporting of both sides of a story, for example, but adhering to the principals 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.

So without any real standards, anyone has a right to declare himself or herself a journalist. Major media outlets also encourage it. Citizen journalism allows them to involve audiences, and it is a free source of information and video. But it is also ripe for abuse.

CNN's last YouTube Republican debate included a question from a retired general who is on Hillary Clinton's lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender steering committee. False Internet rumors about Sen. Barack Obama attending a radical Muslim school became so widespread that CNN and other news agencies did stories debunking the rumors. There are literally hundreds of Internet hoaxes and false reports passed off as true stories, tracked by sites such as

Okay. Let's play this game:

* A forty-year Journalist at a major network airs a segment presenting documents that supposedly prove rumors about a sitting president's lack of service in the National Guard, and the documents turn out to be utterly fake -- and the news agency didn't reveal their single source's long history of being an anti-Guard and anti-Bush crank.

* The executive vice-president of a major television news channel admits in an op-ed that he deliberately skewed the news out of his network's Baghdad bureau to make Saddam Hussein look good so he could keep the bureau open.

* A major news magazine runs a single-sourced story on Gitmo guards flushing a Koran down the toilet which turns out to be false, and sets off riots around the world that kill 19 people.

* A major political magazine -- the "in-flight magazine of Air Force One" -- runs 27 stories that turn out to be hoaxes despite named people in the articles complaining of the lack of veracity. Only the final story gains the attention of the editors and exposes the rest of the fakes. The same magazine would nine years later make the same mistake and handle it even more badly than it did the first time around.

Hazinski seems to think that credibility gets earned by joining an association or getting a certificate in Journalism. It doesn't; it gets earned by getting the story right and building trust with an audience. No one pays much attention to e-mail glurge because it's been proven wrong so often, but Hazinski wants to lump that in with what bloggers do. It's the equivalent of saying that all media outlets equate to the Weekly World News (now defunct) because they both use a printing press, or that televised news shows all equal the Jerry Springer Show because they both talk about issues.

No one should need a guild membership to speak their mind. The First Amendment, which protected Hazinski throughout his entire career, does not include a provision that says free speech should only apply to those in the Journalist Union. Hazinski wants to recreate the barriers to publication that existed before the Internet in order to protect himself, not to protect consumers from gossip. People are smart enough to find the truth, which is why the First Amendment exists in the first place.

Credibility does not come from taking a pledge to be credible. It comes from the work, and that's a truth that apparently Hazinski hasn't learned in his career as a Journalist.


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» Another “Old Media” Snob Attacks Citizen Journalists; Cries Out For Regulation from The Gun Toting Liberal™
Former NBC correspondent and current professor of journalism David Hazinski goes on a rant against Citizen journalism and the bloggers who participate in the new media world, crying out for regulation, denying the term “journalism” should b... [Read More]

» We Don’t Need No Steenkin’ “Free Press” from Rhymes With Right
Claiming there is too much unfettered speech by “citizen journalists”, one journalism professor and former MSM reporter insists that the time has come to impose some fetters. Having just anyone produce widely distributed stories without control can hav... [Read More]