Express and Explore Yourself

“We’re all journalists now,” some claim. But it’s not really true.

Is Rush Limbaugh a journalist? Some think of him as a
reckless ranter, who twists the facts to get higher ratings.
But the combative, popular talk-show host finds
a fan in Gary McGregor of Ladner, who defends
the American commentator's form of "journalism"
in the name of freedom.
-The Vancouver Sun
A dose of journalistic pride has been called for after my weekend essay on the rise of so-called “citizen” journalism. The explosion of new digital voices is causing many Internet columnists, bloggers and advocates to assume: “We’re all journalists now.” But Ross Howard, a veteran Canadian journalist who teaches ethics in thejournalism program at Vancouver’s Langara College, says authentic journalists should not buy into this emerging cliche.Most people who write for the public on the Internet, he said via email, have no respect for journalistic principles. Therefore they should not identify as journalists.

 (I received several other emails full of bombast, which seemed to solidify Howard’s point. You can read one below.) Howard adds an important element to the argument that journalism ethics professor Stephen Ward and I made in my Saturday column, headlined “If ‘We’re all journalists now,’ what’s our ethical code?”
In it I generally support Ward’s contention that, with more people declaring themselves journalists in some form or another, they need to following agreed-upon guidelines on ethical discourse. That is, if they’re interested in being taken seriously. But Howard’s friendly criticism is worth disseminating. Indeed, I find it quite eloquent.
howard2 Were all journalists now, some claim. But its not really true.
Ross Howard, Langara College: “Journalism involves news-gathering and opinion dissemination deeply committed to accuracy, fairness, balance and independent diversity in the public interest.”
“Doug: Your otherwise insightful essay on online ethics continues the terrible appropriation of the identity and meaning  of journalism by anyone seeking free expression. Just because everyone can go online, form communities of interest, advocate, opine and fulminate does not make everyone a journalist. Far from it,” he wrote in an email, titled ‘You’ve misappropriated journalism,’ which I obtained his permission to publish.
Howard continues:
“Journalism involves  news-gathering and opinion dissemination deeply committed to accuracy, fairness, balance and independent diversity in the public interest.  Most citizens healthily expressing themselves, online or in a bar, would not want to be constrained by standards such as verification and impartiality that define journalism.
“Undeniably we need some guidelines (you can’t call them rules, for citizens) for online dialogue, but you can’t call citizens journalists if they don’t follow the rules and standards that define professional news-gathering and opinion. We should reassert, strengthen and  celebrate what distinguishes journalism  and makes it a public service for citizens even in an online world.”
In a follow-up email exchange, Howard added:
“I don’t so much challenge you and my friend (Stephen) Ward — as simply remind you both that professional journalists with their training and principles have allowed their identification to be appropriated, jeopardizing their role and reputation. And the time is fast running out for the profession to reassert what distinguishes it, rather than simply subsuming itself into the masses online.
“Online’s citizen empowerment is a wonderful thing, but it ain’t journalism. Citizen journalism is an oxymoron and unfair to both journalists and citizens. Call them what they are: citizen eyewitnesses, citizen sources, citizen voices.
Best regards, Ross
I also received emails this week that seemed to prove Howard’s point — that a lot of self-proclaimed “journalists,” both in the online and so-called mainstream media — don’t deserve the title.
They’re the people determined to express name-calling, raw anger, half-truths, fear-mongering and untruths in the name of “freedom,” rather than through making reasoned arguments based on verifiable reality and careful persuasion.
Here is an excerpt from an illustrative opinion piece, which the Ladner author, “Gary McGregor, LL.B.,” sent to me, as well as The Vancouver Sun‘s letters editor and others at the newspaper in hopes of publication.
He doesn’t think online journalists, or any journalist or activist, should agree to anyone’s suggested ethical guidelines in making public comments, certainly not Ward’s or mine. Should there be no limits at all on ‘free speech?’
{For the record, many of McGregor’s statements of fact about the media, and his characterization of what I actually wrote, are erroneous. But readers can also make their own decisions about how seriously to take his writings.}
McGregor’s letter was titled “Herr Todd’s rule of dialogue”
“In his reproach of “online journalists” Mr. Todd says its “’impossible to be taken seriously by other communities if you are constantly in rant mode, like radio host Rush Limbaugh.’ {Todd’s} idea of ‘reasonableness’ is to pontificate to the rabble on the ‘ethical ground rules’ by which those who disagree with him should moderate our views, ‘respect differences’ and just roll over to lamestream convention….
“Unlike the ‘ethicist’ Mr. Todd, my inclination is for freedom. I reject his preposterous imposition of ‘ground rules’ on political discourse because I know that speech is not free if it is censored by either government edict or by superior clowns in the establishment media.
The left dismisses those who disagree as aberrant, abhorrent, or just plain nuts. Thus, Rush Limbaugh, America’s runaway top radio host, whose audience is a million-fold more than Mr. Todd’s Twitter crew, is just a “ranter” who can’t “communicate”.
“The truth—which Mr. Todd’s hubris won’t allow him to acknowledge—is that ‘online journalism’ is the logical and inevitable response to the fetid, J-school, PC liberalism of the mainstream media. That’s why Fox News is clobbering MSNBC, CNN viewers could comfortably assemble in a high school gym, Air America is a carcass, and the NY Times is dancing with insolvency.
 Were all journalists now, some claim. But its not really true.
Fox News claims to offer ‘real journalism.’ A reader seems to agree. He says “‘online journalism’ is the logical and inevitable response to the fetid, J-school, PC liberalism of the mainstream media. That’s why Fox News is clobbering MSNBC….’” But, what is journalism?
“In a moment of candor (or in vino veritas), Mr. Todd might admit that the overwhelming number of his peers are left of center, and that a good many of them are hard-boiled socialists. The comedic value of his screed is that the casual reader of his paper would be pressed to come up with a single contributor to whom Bush is not a scoundrel and Obama is not a demi-God. How do you get to ‘pragmatic objectivity’ when those in the office who aren’t leftist drones are treated like lepers?
“Mr. Todd doesn’t give a crap about liberty. His instinct is that an all-powerful government of superior eggheads is better suited to advance civilization than a republic founded on the conviction that, under Natural Law, freeborn citizens are free to speak, in the public square or online.
“His action hero, Prof. Stephen Ward, upon who rests the fate of “democracy, truth and maybe planetary survival”, intones, arms akimbo and cape fluttering, that: ‘the digital media need to be governed somewhat like combatants in war’.
“There you have it. The DNA impulse of the left is to regulate, to control. It is instinctually impelled to govern those wayward types who haven’t been enlightened by pot-smoking profs, who don’t think there is a compromise between right and stupid.
“It’s all about ‘diversity of voices,’ so long as the song’s the same. And if ‘participatory journalists’ and their ‘metso-level publics’ can’t be whipped into shape by Herr Todd’s ‘Rules of Dialogue’, maybe the next step is to have the CRTC ban ‘em. Then we could go back to the good old daze, when Mother told us how to see the world.
“I’ll ‘commit to reasonableness’ when Mr. Todd evinces a scintilla of understanding of the meaning of free speech.”
Gary McGregor, LL.B., Ladner, BC

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