Response to Professor David Hazinski

Bloggers have bristled at the opinion piece "Unfettered 'citizen journalism' too risky" by University of Georgia professor David Hazinski, but it doesn't amount to much in my opinion, and the resulting controversy is really kind of boring. However, I feel I should respond here since the piece is from a UGA professor and since this blog occasionally ventures into "citizen journalism," but before I explain further here is my bottom line:

The integrity of the news media is always going to be called into question when it depends on corporate advertising. The interests of advertisers affect the decisions by reporters, editors, publishers, and producers, and those interests will always interfere with the objectivity of journalists. Even our own dear Flagpole suffers from this problem.

Before you read my drivel there are some good responses on Drifting Through the Grift and PeachPundit. I became aware of this inconsequential editorial from a blog post by Blake Aued. Now here are my remarks.

Type of regulation: I don't think that Hazinski is calling for something as onerous as it sounds when he talks about "regulation." He does suggest that citizen journalists should get training and certification, but he does not say that the government should get involved and hamper the current work of citizen journalists. The whole point of his piece seems to be that organizations should promulgate more cohesive ethical standards for journalists and get smalltime, independent journalists involved. Although the piece does reek of censorship because it compares the state of journalism to professions that are regulated by government, he does not explicitly call for such regulation. Instead he writes, "The news industry should find some way to monitor and regulate this new trend," referring to the industry's use of amateur contributions through the Internet and persuading the industry (not the contributors themselves) to be more cautious.

Why regulation: Hazinski presents minimal anecdotal evidence for the idea that unregulated journalists are causing harm, and he asserts they pose the danger of "fraud and abuse." Yes, it is a great thing for professional journalists to organize and raise their ethical standards for themselves, but I am unconvinced that amateurs and hobbyists are posing a serious problem. Again, he is addressing the mainstream media's use of contributions and not saying that bloggers should get certificates before writing in their own blogs. He does not address the fact that even unsophisticated readers recognize the difference between reading one thing on cnn.com and something else on blogspot.com signed by a person using a CB radio handle, but this is because he is addressing the problem of outlets like CNN adopting reports they have not verified themselves.

Profession: Hazinski is hoping to professionalize journalism, but journalism is not a profession. He makes comparisons to medicine and law, but those are learned professions which journalism cannot aspire to be. There is not a specialized body of knowledge that journalists apply to render their services in the way that, for example, a physician uses knowledge of anatomy and physiology. Hazinski's analogies about a "citizen surgeon" carrying a scalpel and a "citizen lawyer" reading a law book do not work. Journalism is about conveying information, and anyone can do that, especially in a country with free speech rights. It is useful for professional journalists to organize in order to define their goals and standards, but there is no reason for them to regulate amateur communications. Furthermore, as long as journalists depend on corporate advertisers, they will not be able to exercise independent professional judgment as practitioners of medicine and law are supposed to be able to do.

My conclusions: Hazinski could rewrite his piece in a way less damning of amateur journalists but making the same point, that mainstream media outlets should promote journalism training and prefer the contributions from trained people. This point is not very interesting because mainstream outlets can do whatever they please as long as the advertisers and stockholders are happy. What might be more interesting is the claim by a blog commenter that Hazinski is in the business of training journalists as he makes his appeal.

What does the professor's opinion piece mean for the Athens World blog and the whole blogosphere? Nothing. On this blog we are interested in our community and maintaining our appearance of integrity here. Throughout the blogosphere there is the potential for dialogue to be refined and things to be learned. Citizen journalism is nothing new; it's just evolving. Home movie cameras have been around for decades, and printing has been around even longer. Did anyone ever see the episode of "The Andy Griffith Show" in which Opie started his own newsletter and printed all the gossip he heard? He learned about what to report, how to say it, and the readers he was trying to serve -- but he didn't have to worry about what an advertiser wanted him to do.


jmSnowden said...

Maybe the supposed professional journalistic training is part of the problem. Professors have been handing on their biases and bad habits in case studies and individual practices and one need only deal with New source fifteen once to see how the future of news is being crafted. When I handled public affairs for an organization during Katrina, we nearly had to remove these little cubs from a building in handcuffs after they trespassed. When the Red and Black covered the same event, they published cell phone numbers of officials who gave them the numbers for press use only. We had to get new phones because people were calling lines left open for the dissemination of news to donate things like toilet paper. I have seen unneeded aggressiveness, sensationalism and sloppiness unchecked, if not rewarded, first hand from these eventual “journalists”. My feeling is that it’s a new medium in a new era. Maybe we need a new approach instead of trying to cram into yesterdays poor practices.

The blogs are to the paid press much like the music sites are to the music publishing industry. No longer will giant budgets and conglomerates control the flow of content. Great journalists will survive the move to the web but the companies that have relied on their ownership of a press to cement their position may find themselves with the volume turned down. Finally, the content and the idea can rule without the endorsement or control of the media conglomerates.

Adrian Pritchett said...

The content of the training is an interesting point to consider. I am not familiar with journalism school myself. I have seen just enough of the culture at the Red and Black to see its problems, and though I hadn't thought about it, it would be worth asking whether the journalism school contributes to its problems. I don't know how News Source 15 is run, but the Red and Black seems to give the student editors free rein rather than trying to preserve the institution's dignity for past and future students.

Polusplanchnos said...

Why did you link journalism as the dissemination of information to the right of free speech, rather than to the right of a free press?

From the perspective of a lawyer-to-be, what's the difference, if there is one?

(Of course, it seems to me that it's a loaded difference...)

Adrian Pritchett said...

"Speech" has been interpreted very broadly and is often dealt with in the same breath as "press." "Press" rights can be more specific, such as protection of reporters from having to reveal sources.

"'Freedom of the press' has less significance than meets the eye. It is true, of course, that the First Amendment specifically guarantees freedom of the press as well as free speech, and the media often ascribe the freedom they enjoy to the Press Clause. Even the Supreme Court occasionally emits rhetoric that implies as much. But as a matter of positive law, the Press Clause actually plays a rather minor role in protecting the freedom of the press. Most of the freedoms the press receives from the First Amendment are no different from the freedoms everyone enjoys under the Speech Clause. The press is protected from most government censorship, libel judgments, and prior restraints not because it is the press but because the Speech Clause protects all of us from those threats." David A. Anderson, Freedom of the Press, 80 Tex. L. Rev. 429, 430 (2002).