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
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.