All but one student wanted the SPJ Code of Ethics to be the law of the land.
Most were surprised that SPJ’s code is an unenforceable suggestion instead of a punishable regulation.
Jesus fucking Christ in a bundt cake. No wonder we end up with endless editorials about how awful it is that bloggers don’t have to pass a Journalism Exam to type words on the Internet. This isn’t about the kids; they’re too easy to pick on. What the hell kind of instruction are they getting upstairs, that this is what they come to the lecture thinking? What the hell kind of chickenass nonsense is this? Law of the land? Should the journalism police take your Cracker Jack badge away if you’re bad?
The answers were longer and less clear when another panelist, FIU professor Juliet Pinto, asked, “How would you enforce this certification?”
“Well, we could start, like, a group to do that,” one student said. “Like a guild of journalists to decide.”
And if the guild found a fellow journalist to be unethical and unworthy?
That was easy, replied a student named Dennis: “The punishment for violating the Code in those cases? You lose your job and you have to find a job somewhere else.”
Look. I get you want your degree to mean something, and it’s a bummer when you realize that anybody with a notebook who happens to not suck at journalism can do journalism, too. But I’m not sure designing a system basically modeled on the Catholic Church’s method of dealing with pedophiles is really the way to up the value of your diploma.
You don’t go to journalism school to become a journalist. You go to journalism school to get a journalism degree, which makes it easier to get a job with a media company. Journalism school CAN make you a better journalist, if you have good teachers and that’s how you want to do it. Working as a journalist can make you a journalist, too. It is hard, when you’ve been categorizing and labeling everything your whole life, to wrap your brain around the idea that the work makes you what you are. Not the place you do it for, not the card in your wallet, not the piece of paper on your wall. The work.
Plenty of people call themselves journalists, who aren’t, which is a problem to those they’re scamming. But it’s a problem we have to solve by being smart about what we read and watch and listen to, not by handing out membership cards. Before anybody throws doctors and lawyers in my face, journalists are not performing open heart surgery or sending anybody to death row, so let’s nip the idea of a certified board of people giving out licenses right there.
It’s reductive and lazy, and while it might lead to more stringent public shaming of bullshit artists like James O’Keefe, it would also lend official sanction to bullshit artists like David Gregory. We should not be willing to accept the horror of the latter in return for the dubious benefit of the former.