A politician from Wisconsin proposed over the weekend that journalists should be licensed to "figure out which reporters to trust."
The Republican state senator, Bruce Patterson, admits the legislation won't go anywhere and said he wanted to ignite a discussion about responsible journalism. His bill would create a government regulatory board that journalists could voluntarily register with.
While I sympathize with his concern that many media outlets are unable to report the news fairly and accurately, he's irresponsibly messing with the very cornerstone of our way of life.
A free and independent press is crucial in keeping big government and big corporations from abusing the population. Any kind of government board, whether or not it is voluntary, would be a giant leap in a very dangerous direction, and I'm uncomfortable that he would propose anything such of this, even if he has no intention of seeing it passed.
"What's the definition of a reporter? I haven't been able to find out? What's a reporter? What's a journalist?" Patterson said. "I thought you had to have a degree in journalism, but apparently not. I could retire and be a journalist."
Somewhere in the country's history, we started to assume, as Patterson does, that only J-school graduates who work for big-name newspapers or TV stations could handle the responsibility of disseminating information about the goings on of the day.
If we think outside of the box a little bit, and ask ourselves "whose observations do we trust," we will quickly realize that we digest information from many sources that didn't get a journalism degree--our neighbors, friends, relatives, and business associates. We trust these sources because we've deemed them reliable through experience. The information they give us jives with our personal observations.
Do you find the J-school graduates of cable news, the New York Times, the LA Times, and so on credible? They deliver biased information to us daily--who cares how many degrees they have?
The key to determining which news source is credible is something each listener or viewer has to determine. If a source isn't reliable in your estimation, ignore it. Degrees, experience, professionalism, and employers are all factors that improve credibility, but they are no substitute for it.