Bloggers are Tehwable

Sports columnist Stephen A. Smith fires off an over-the-top rant at bloggers:

"And when you look at the internet business, what's dangerous about it
is that people who are clearly unqualified get to disseminate their
piece to the masses. I respect the journalism industry, and the fact of
the matter is ...someone with no training should not be allowed to have
any kind of format whatsoever to disseminate to the masses to the level
which they can. They are not trained. Not experts."

Despite its wackiness, we can still draw some useful observations:

  • Yet again, we have an industry incumbent calling for some sort of professional licensing, nominally to protect consumers, but in actuality to protect the incumbent's position in the industry.  Smith himself couldn't be more explicit about this:

"Therefore, there's a total disregard, a level of wrecklessness that
ends up being a domino effect. And the people who suffer are the common
viewers out there and, more importantly, those in the industry who
haven't been fortunate to get a radio or television deal and only rely
on the written word. And now they've been sabotaged. Not because of me.
Or like me. But because of the industry or the world has allowed the
average joe to resemble a professional without any credentials
whatsoever."

He can't even complete the sentence with the window dressing justification that this is for the consumers before he gets to the real people he is trying to protect, ie traditional media personalities like himself.  You know, trained professionals.   You could subsititute attorneys, doctors, nurses, real estate agents, funeral directors, massage therapists, hair braiders, fishing guides and any other licensed or unionized professional and find the same speech given somewhere at some time.

  • People called me crazy when I said that the next step in the media wars with bloggers was a call for licensing (and here) Whose crazy now?
  • McCain-Feingold sent us a long way down this horrible path by establishing that there are such things as "journalists" who can be trusted to speak in public before elections, and everyone else, who cannot be so trusted.  This was the first time the debate over whether bloggers are journalists turned heated, because there was a legislated cost associated with not being a journalist.
  • Note the implicit disdain for the consumer, or in this case, the viewer or reader.  The unstated assumption is that the consumer is a total idiot, a dupe who mindlessly keeps tuning in to inferior news reports from untrained bloggers rather than watching pros like Stephen A. Smith as they should be
  • Finally, and this may be unfair because I am only partially familiar with Mr. Smith's work, but I will observe that he is an African-American who brings a kind of street style to his reporting.  A style that I might guess that a crotchety sports reporter from thirty years ago might easily have defined then as unprofessional.  Mr. Smith's career has benefited in part because he has differentiated himself with new style and approach, but now he wants to slam the door on others trying to similarly bring innovation and new approaches to the sports world.  Unfortunately, all too typical of professionals of all stripes, particularly since the government has set the expectation over the last 100 years that it is open to using its coercive power to enforcing professional standards in even the most trivial of professions.

I end such a discussion, as always, with Milton Friedman:

The justification offered [for licensing] is always the same: to protect the consumer. However, the reason
is demonstrated by observing who lobbies at the state legislature for
the imposition or strengthening of licensure. The lobbyists are
invariably representatives of the occupation in question rather than of
the customers. True enough, plumbers presumably know better than anyone
else what their customers need to be protected against. However, it is
hard to regard altruistic concern for their customers as the primary
motive behind their determined efforts to get legal power to decide who
may be a plumber.

  • Nick S.

    Yeah, like no "qualified", "expert" reporters ever rigged a car so its gas tank would explode on impact while filming it...

  • Andy

    Or like the chicken - egg debate, which came first? IIRC, Ben Franklin was a pamphleteer. Who certified him to discourse on the nascent rebellion? King George? But people like Smith run face first into Free Speech. People are free to heed or not to heed the speaker.

    In any case, all the so called self-evident truths that journalists hold near & dear, such as being "unbiased" etc are artificial constructs and/or marketing gimmicks to differentiate themselves from partisan journalists.

    Cry me a river while I punt John McCain.

  • Anonymous

    One would think the First Amendment "Congress shall make no law" would quickly end all this nonsense about defining or licensing the press, but, unfortunately, the Supremes in their infinite wisdom have long ago turned "no law" into "some laws we deem socially acceptable."

  • http://theforgottenhalf.blogspot.com/ Troy

    It seems like the answer for Mr. Smith could be done privately. "Real journalists" are free to form an association and grant membership to whomever they wish. That symbol of membership could be attached to publications, web pages, etc. so the readers would know if their source was a "real journalist" or just an idiot blogger like most of us. No government needed, freedom not infringed, people free to think for themselves. --- Nah, never happen.

  • bill-tb

    Real journalists were never particularity good with the Bill of Rights and the Constitution. I think what really bugs them, is no one reads them any more, their monopoly is kaput. It no longer requires a printing press, or radio-tv station to get your word out. All you need is a seat at the local library. Thank you alGore.

    I find I still examine who is doing the writing and develop a level of trust over time. One misstep and I move along. You become your own editor, or you become lost.

  • Bryan

    The funny thing is that stephen a smith is a joke. His "street style" is basically just him yelling, he is about as far from professional as possible. Not to mention that he practices the most damaging kind of speach these days, which is making absolutely everything into a racial issue. And why would he be so concerned? He's a sports reporter, it's not exactly crucial or important topics that are his realm. As my friend always says "stephen a smith on, radio off"

  • Bryan

    The funny thing is that stephen a smith is a joke. His "street style" is basically just him yelling, he is about as far from professional as possible. Not to mention that he practices the most damaging kind of speach these days, which is making absolutely everything into a racial issue. And why would he be so concerned? He's a sports reporter, it's not exactly crucial or important topics that are his realm. As my friend always says "stephen a smith on, radio off"

  • markm

    "a level of wrecklessness"

    One might think that someone who can't spell shouldn't be complaining about the unprofessionalism of others.

  • http://alfin2100.blogspot.com Al Fin

    The tragic thing about Stephen Smith is the absence of insight into his own absurdity. He is walking around with a huge "KICK ME" sign pasted onto his posterior and he does not even comprehend the position he puts himself (and other "professional journalists") in.

    Smith's credulous defense of the "guild of journalism" reminds me of the precarious state of the postmodern professoriate in academia. They have tenure, but . . . there is no there, there.

    How long can this house of cards stand up?

  • http://www.cargocult.biz John

    I agree, but this discussion of "trained" journalists always leaves me a little astonished. I worked for a large national/international newspaper and broadcasting organization for several years (quite a few years ago) and, at least in that time and place, there didn't appear to be any "training".

    The reporters and producers I knew had a wide variety of educational backgrounds, trending heavily toward liberal arts degrees from small north eastern colleges but by no means limited to that. There were a few old veterans of the Edward R Murrow era who were extremely competent but the vast majority were young people of little experience. The idea that there is some "Academy of Journalism" or something these people have attended which the rest of us have not doesn't match my experience at all. ... and from a public policy standpoint that's as it should be. (Within a particular organization I think it's a different matter.)

  • John Dewey

    This is an excellent post, Mr. Meyer. Thank you!

    I often wish I could wake up and discover that McCain-Feingold was just a bad dream. I grew up believing that Freedom of Speech - illustrated so well by Norman Rockwell and displayed in all my elementary school classrooms - could never be taken from us.

    How could John McCain forget what he was protecting when he served his country and sacrificed years of his life?