Hunter S. Thompson
Hunter S. Thompson

When I heard that HuffPo was instituting standards for citizen journalists, my initial thoughts were that this is like having cinematic standards for porn or a paparazzi code of conduct.  Jeff Bercovici explains why he feels that the 2,500 or so citizen journalists should follow professional standards.  NYU Journalism prof. Jay Rosen has a different views, evident when he explained last year why he thinks that citizen journalists have a place, in light of the Mayhill Fowler dustup about her HuffPo article based on interview with Bill Clinton, where she did not reveal she was a member of the “press.”  Rosen makes a good point here::

“When we admit the validity of both we expand the social space of the press. That is a good thing. If it has pro and amateur wings maybe the press can fly again. If the pros and lots of citizens care about things like “access” maybe that will expand the accessible zone in politics. Dave Winer said it this weekend: Blow up the Beltway. My formulation is milder: expand the press!”
I understand that by professionalizing the act of journalism, it lends the institution of journalism an air of legitimacy.  There are supposedly formalized rules of engagement that engender trust {or something more like a grudging acceptance, perhaps} with subjects and readers alike.
I’m not buying it.  Jonathan Alter of Newsweek complained about Fowler, which was tantamount to whining about how his job is getting tougher with the advent of citizen journalists::
“This makes it very difficult for the rest of us to do our jobs…If you don’t have trust, you don’t get good stories. If someone comes along and uses deception to shatter that trust, she has hurt the very cause of a free flow of public information that [Fowler] claims she wants to assist. You identify yourself when you’re interviewing somebody…It’s just a form of cheating not to.”
Please.  Maybe the “trust” is really an instrumentalist manifestation of journalism beholden to capitalism.  Professional journalists need to feed a costly machine that generates revenues.  Good for them.  Although, I offer that when capitalism is tied to journalism, you often get infotainment.  Is the “trust” really a quid-pro-quo exchange of favours?  Journalists play by certain “rules” to get stories to feed a revenue-generating news machine.
Is Dateline NBC practising good journalistic integrity in its “To Catch a Predator” ruse::

Hey, alleged child molesters are an easy target, so it’s all for the best, right?  Never mind that professional journalism was found engaging in entrapment of a Assistant District Attorney who committed suicide over being targeted in the “sting” operation.

While I surmise that most professional journalists would decry these tactics and To Catch a Predator would not be viewed by many as professional journalism, it highlights how journalistic integrity within that institution is far from above reproach.

I’ve argued that satire masquerading as journalism can serve the journalistic function outside the institution of journalism.  It should be noted that Colbert and Stewart are still a part of infotainment, albeit with a different stance.  I’m all for a plurality of voices and stances in the media.  I’m more interested in the journalistic function of the fourth estate than preserving some abstract notion of the institution of journalism as a craft.  I’d rather see journalists push the envelope à la Hunter S. Thompson, rather than play it safe or curry favor with advertisers.  ¡Viva Gonzo!

Song:  The Jam, “News of the World” (1978) (#27UK Singles)