“I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”
— Groucho Marx
A Michigan lawmaker is shaking up the undocumented journalistic hordes by suggesting, possibly a bit facetiously, that reporters should be licensed — like plumbers and hairdressers.
According to FoxNews.com, state Sen. Bruce Patterson said some reporters covering state politics don’t know what they’re talking about. He also complained there are publications he’s never heard of. His bill would create a voluntary licensing agency.
His plan would create a "Board of Michigan Registered Reporters."
The first requirement alone creates an oxymoron by requiring proof of “good moral character.” If they had good moral character they would not be reporters in the first place.
It would require a degree in journalism or an equivalent, as well as “ethics standards acceptable to the board.” Even members of the Society of Professional Journalists don’t agree on every plank in the organization’s Code of Ethics.
In addition the licensed ones would have to have three years experience as a reporter, report awards or recognition and submit three or more writing samples.
“What’s the definition of a reporter? I haven’t been able to find out? What’s a reporter? What’s a journalist?” Patterson was quoted as saying. “I thought you had to have a degree in journalism, but apparently not. I could retire and be a journalist.”
Yep, it is pretty rough and tumble. Anybody can play. It is up to the readers, viewers and listeners to make their own determination. That’s why the Founders gave us a system that gives us the equally reviled, by separate audiences, The New York Times and Fox News.
Even if it is voluntary, having the sticky fingers of government involved raises the specter of manipulation and control.
Patterson recognizes a real problem of people not knowing who is worthy of trust, but the answer is not to have a sanctioned pool of reporters — any more than it is the business of the state of Nevada to require those who wish to exercise their free speech right on the subject of candidates for public office to register with the state. That is prior restraint.