LICENSE TO CHILL

 

A barber needs a license to cut your hair. A plumber needs a license to clean your pipes.


Why doesn’t a journalist need a license to cover your news?

Two weeks ago, 50 college journalists pondered that question. And nearly all agreed…

1. The government shouldn’t license journalists.
2. Journalists should license journalists.

These students from two similar-sounding schools – Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and Florida International University (FIU) – insisted journalists need to be certified and regulated. They just weren’t sure how.

They were attending a one-day conference called “Listen Learn Connect,” hosted by FIU’s SPJ chapter. I was invited to speak on a panel about journalism ethics. But we spent the entire hour on licensing.

All but one student wanted the SPJ Code of Ethics to be the law of the land.


Most were surprised that SPJ’s code is an unenforceable suggestion instead of a punishable regulation. But their astonishment makes sense: They’re the first generation to grow up entirely with standardized testing.

Their schooling so far has consisted of being spoon-fed the “right answers,” usually multiple choice.

So their answers were predictably short when one of my fellow panelists, FIU journalism professor Fred Blevens, asked, “Besides obeying the Code, what else would you require of someone to be certified as a journalist?”

“Graduating from journalism school,” one student replied confidently.

“Using [Microsoft] Word,” another joked.

The answers were longer and less clear when another panelist, FIU professor Juliet Pinto, asked, “How would you enforce this certification?”

“Well, we could start, like, a group to do that,” one student said. “Like a guild of journalists to decide.”

And if the guild found a fellow journalist to be unethical and unworthy?

That was easy, replied a student named Dennis: “The punishment for violating the Code in those cases? You lose your job and you have to find a job somewhere else.”

Some students nodded in agreement. (Or maybe they were just nodding. I hate panel discussions.)

Only one student disputed her peers. Lulu Ramadan is editor of the FAU student newspaper.

“I don’t think it would work,” she said. “Certification doesn’t make you a journalist, experience makes you a journalist.”

Crickets and tumbleweeds.

So I made these students an offer they can’t excuse.


“If you want to license journalists, let’s do that,” I said. “Let’s start right here at FIU, with your own student media. You create a guild to decide who’s in and who’s out – and I’ll pay you.”

I offered $500 from my meager SPJ account to fund their efforts. “I’ll pay for your food and drink and whatever else you need to get your guild going.”

But it’s been 10 days  since my offer, and I haven’t heard a peep from them. So I’m extending the offer nationwide…

If any school anywhere in the country wants to experiment with licensing journalists on their own campus – as a little-pink-spoon-at-Baskin-Robbins taste of what it might be like in the real world – I’ll write you a check for $500.

All you gotta do is let me Skype into your meetings and document your debates and decisions. And you must share the results and repercussions.

But it won’t happen. As I told FIU’s TV station, which covered the conference and interviewed me afterward…

I’m offering hundreds of dollars if you guys will start a guild – or whatever the hell that thing was earlier – where you’re actually going to decide what a journalist is on this campus.

I will buy your food and your frosty adult beverages. I will rent a room for you. I will put couches in it and a disco ball. Whatever you want – and it’ll never happen.

No one will do it. If students did everything I offered to pay for, I’d be broke. If I was back in college, this would be really cool – let’s start a panel to decide who’s a journalist on this campus. And if it fails, it’ll fail big and fun.

…but the student TV reporter holding the microphone to my mouth looked slightly confused, the way a dog looks at a YouTube video of another dog. So I imagine the quote above won’t make it to YouTube when she files her report.

If you want to fail big and fun and get paid for it, email me at journoterrorist@gmail.com.

But you won’t.


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