I’m a huge fan of Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr. His op-ed column today in the Star-Telegram is a good example of why I admire his work.
As usual, Leonard writes about a compelling issue with impressive thoughtfulness and clarity that anyone can understand. Today, he’s venting about why “citizen journalism” isn’t journalism at all. What his view boils down to is an argument that deserves a standing ovation:
“You cannot be a journalist -– citizen or otherwise -– if credibility matters less than ideology.”
I can’t think of a simpler, more effective way to speak that truth.
Amplified by the Web’s awesome power and other new media, ideology and propagandists infest our society and culture at a toxic level, focusing destructive energies on divisiveness instead of dialogue. For instance, have you ever heard talk-show propagandist Sean Hannity tear into someone who challenges one of his views? Hannity tears them apart. So goes ideology's attack. It takes to a new level the impact of the lies, rumors and shuck 'n' jive that have plagued humankind since Day One.
“Every Tom, Dick and Harriet with a blog is a ‘citizen journalist,’” Leonard writes. Well, obviously, not all bloggers view themselves as journalists, but many do, and as I’ve read them, I’ve noted that rhetoric, not verified facts, fill their work. Yes, it's important to share thoughts and reaction. Just don't call that journalism.
It’s too bad that more “citizen journalists” can’t be authentic journalists digging for and reporting facts -- from pursuing government documentation with Freedom of Information requests to exposing the scandal of potholes. This country of ours needs all the real journalists it can get.
If you’re not a journalist but would like to be, go for it.
I’d suggest, though, that first you read the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. Might want to note that the preamble speaks of “enlightenment.” Facts and transparency (and good journalists), not mere opinions, provide the light for that state of being.
What do you think?