Licensed Journalist? Michigan Starts a Debate
By John Gramlich, Staff Writer
A Michigan state senator is sending ripples through the journalism world by suggesting that reporters — just like plumbers or accountants — should be licensed. The idea, which has been introduced as a bill in the Legislature, seeks to address the often-blurry line between "traditional media" and "new media."
As mlive.com reported earlier this week , Senator Bruce Patterson has introduced legislation "that would establish a state licensing board for journalists. Reporters from 'a generally recognized media or press association' who apply for licensing, meet criteria including 'good moral character' and pay a $10 fee would earn the distinction of 'Michigan registered reporter.' "
Applicants also would have to "submit proof of a degree in journalism or equivalent field, three years experience, three writing samples and, if earned, any reporting awards," the news site reported.
Crucially, "registration would be voluntary, and unlicensed reporters would still be allowed to cover state politics," mlive.com noted. "But Patterson, explaining that he thinks many journalists covering the state Capitol don't know what they're talking about, recently told FoxNews.com a licensing system would help news consumers decide which sources to trust."
The legislation — which even Patterson acknowledged is unlikely to become law — gets at the heart of a debate about the 21 st century media landscape, particularly in statehouses, where a declining newspaper press corps has given way to a host of new, often online-based news gatherers. With such a diverse and hard-to-navigate landscape, which outlets should news consumers trust?
Stateline reported on this phenomenon in April: "Across the country, traditional media, insider newsletters, opinionated observers and some new media start-ups covering state news are increasingly competing for the online audience. But even as the traditional news coverage changes, if not shrinks, these new products are providing Web visitors access to more information about state government than ever before. The challenge for consumers is finding credible information."
Thomas Mitchell, editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal , is one of the more prominent journalists to criticize the proposal. Today's media landscape, Mitchell noted in a blog entry , is "pretty rough and tumble. Anybody can play."
"It is up to the readers, viewers and listeners to make their own determination," Mitchell believes. "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."