DAVID ROSMAN: Journalists are swimming in a sea of imposters

Wednesday, November 30, 2011 | 4:30 p.m. CST; updated 8:13 a.m. CST, Thursday, December 1, 2011

A new YouTube video has surfaced. It is an interesting video with an interesting story.

It is also, to me, a bit misleading and an indication of the problems journalism is facing.


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The video is titled, "AMAZING video of a journalist not taking crap from NYPD." In the two-minute film, a man trying to tape an encounter between police and Occupy New York protesters repeatedly — and angrily — resists efforts to move him from the scene.

Two problems here. First, the individual does not have a press pass. In fact, he admits he does not have a press pass. Second, he never identifies himself as a journalist, or whom he works for.

This is a case where an individual who might be posing as a journalist is diminishing the credibility of the one group needed to maintain the honesty of the government and the freedom of the people — the professional press and journalists.

I have had long discussions with members of various journalism communities, including the LinkedIn's groups for the Society of Professional Journalists and the National Conference of Editorial Writers concerning a number of questions.

"Who (or what) is a journalist?"

"Does a person need to be paid to be a 'professional journalist?'"

"When does (or can) a blogger become a journalist?"

Unfortunately, there are no clear answers to these and other questions. 

The idea of the unpaid "citizen journalist" is now firmly embedded in many news models, including the Missourian's and at The Huffington Post. The profession of journalism seems to be falling further to the wayside.

As our MU journalism students look toward finals and winter break, each might have to reassess the choice of an academic and future career. This is especially true as more and more naysayers claim that print journalism (as well as books in print) faces extinction in the not-too-distant future.

I do not agree with the coming of Armageddon for the newspaper industry, but I do see a threat imposed by those who claim to be "journalists" without regard for facts or credentials.

The videographer in the YouTube film is a prime example — no credentials, no proof of professionalism and, as it appears to me, more inclination for a confrontation than for a story.

My interpretation is that this faux-journalist was there to flout the law and law enforcement.  Yet, even those with proper credentials must obey the law and legitimate legal orders.

It might be that the Society of Professional Journalists and the National Conference of Editorial Writers cannot agree on the definition of a journalist, but they would not include an individual who purposely becomes the story.

SPJ's code of ethics state that a journalist must "avoid misleading, re-enactment or staged news events," and this has all the appearance of being staged.

It is no wonder the field of journalism has fallen from grace in the last few decades. The days when Walter Cronkite was praised for being the "most trusted man in America" are long gone.

There are charges of political bias, plagiarism and paying for stories. A lack of integrity. Websites pawning themselves off as news.

These charges are threatening this very newspaper and the news industry.

Should students abandon the idea of becoming trusted journalists and seek a new profession? I don’t think so.

But an assessment of what is and is not news, as well as presentation of "facts" versus "fiction" or "conjecture," needs to be part of the discussion.

"Freedom of the Press" comes with a price — integrity, honesty, good faith and professionalism.

We cannot allow the world of news anarchy to take this obligation away.

David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. His new book is "A Christian Nation?"

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Corey Parks November 30, 2011 | 4:59 p.m.

I think the term Journalist has lost its meaning over the past 10 years. These days it is hard to not read an article and not get a skewed opinion even if it is. I think people in general are not capable of keeping it straight and narrow anymore.
Remember when reporters used to go after anyone and everyone and made a name for themselves in trying to uncover something. These days it seems they do out of their way to help out someone they like or agree with. Either by leaving things out of stories or writing them up in a bright light.

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Mike Martin November 30, 2011 | 5:01 p.m.

Sadly, the journalism profession itself has contributed to much of this decline -- in myriad ways -- an issue you and I have previously discussed at some length under the heading:

"Does a person need to be paid to be a 'professional journalist?'"

The situation we discussed still makes me as hopping mad as writer Harlan Ellison in this video called Pay the Writer:

Our "profession" -- and a certain group of people teaching it to others -- should take careful notes on viewing this.

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Vega Bond November 30, 2011 | 5:09 p.m.

The only alternative to your version of anarchy is monopoly. I would like to place my faith in the former and the thought that the market may have a way of sorting things out. We are, after all in a media revolution.

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mike mentor November 30, 2011 | 5:21 p.m.

IMHO the "pro's" dropped the integrity ball a long time ago. It's hard to blame them for it though. There is no money tree from which to pluck your pay from for doing excellent unbiased work. Network tv is where I started to see it and then later and to a lessor degree in print. There used to be a huge gap between what you would see from a "biased blogger" and what you would see from a responsible journalist at a network or at a major newspaper. These days, not so much of a difference... I do not trust any of the mainstream media outlets to consistently provide unbiased news reporting any more than the other half of you trust Fox News to be "Fair and Balanced".
Again, I really do understand that because of the business models changing and the necessity to generate income to stay in business, that the changes in the news reporting was necessary self preservation.

Tough issue...

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frank christian November 30, 2011 | 6:36 p.m.

Corey P. - "I think the term Journalist has lost its meaning over the past 10 years" I hope I can jovially tell you that here you read like a liberal who generally give the impression that the world began the day they were born.

The last 10 years? The other paper carried a story about a MU graduation class of Journalists and the speakers they listened to at that great event. It was 1983 the Reagan administration had just "invaded" the nation of Grenada to protect American students there at risk from the communist government controlling the island.

A speaker from one of the network news sources was given a standing ovation after his negative description of the action. The article stated that a representative from the Government was nearly booed off of the stage before he could give the Gov't side.

It might be interesting to read how or if the Missourian treated the issue. I used to take both papers, but had given up and cancelled, as H. Waters used to refer to them, the "laboratory publication". The favorite hit at Reagan was to print an article favorable, but headline the piece with an inaccurate slur. During the inflationary recession before Carter policies were "burned" out of the economy, Reagan ordered the surplus cheese products that Gov't was paying to store, to be doled out to low income and unemployed families (ever hear of a Democrat doing that?). When the cheese ran out, the headlines across the nation read, "Reagan withholds surplus cheese from poor!"

From the Missourian's corner, Now, in reading the online version, I see very little of the bias of the past. Sadly I can no longer afford both.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz November 30, 2011 | 10:25 p.m.

I would be curious to hear from Missourian staff or J School students if press passes are still in vogue? I can recall seeing Tribune reporters wearing a company badge with their name, been a bit since I've seen Missourian staff, but certainly not your typical press pass stuck in the fedora bands. Personally, I think the idea of a press pass being required to report on news is long gone.

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frank christian December 1, 2011 | 8:37 a.m.

Joy Mayer - I think about and laugh at the thought of the time when Missourian used to annually lampoon the extremely popular magazine, Saturday Evening Post, with an issue created by the students. It was really fun to read, but this is strictly the memory of an old man, so tell me if I'm wrong.

The Post had section called "My Favorite Role". A picture of a popular movie star and their description of their favorite work. J students called it My Favorite Roll and pictured a "long john". The real snapper was in the add for a deodorant. It ended with the reminder, "Remember, it's not the arm that stinks, it's the pit!" (I about got down, typing this. Would they be expelled for something like it, today?) I thought this was done several years in a row.

If I didn't just have a bad dream about it, I and I'm sure many others would enjoy somehow seeing these again. Thanks

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Ellis Smith December 1, 2011 | 8:50 a.m.

These discussions are interesting, but they seem to assume that a degree in Journalism is only suited to matters concerning print and broadcast journalism. Isn't that a bit restrictive?

My daughter obtained a BA degree in broadcast journalism from a Big 12 university*, and while she worked briefly in TV journalism she has since carved out a satisfying career in an entirely different field, in part by using what she was taught as a journalist.

*- I'd state the institution's name, but I've noticed some individuals connected with MU exhibit extreme anguish when the names of certain institutions are mentioned.

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Christopher Foote December 1, 2011 | 9:51 a.m.

I rather disagree with Mr. Rosman on journalistic privileges. Anybody who wants to participate in the dissemination of news should receive equal treatment, regardless of their employer. Furthermore, to divide people into two groups, worthy of civil liberty protections vs. not worthy, is to be an arbiter of the value of the "news" being reported, and is highly subjective. For example, I do not think Fox News is actually in the news business. However, I do think that their reporters should be afforded the same privileges as NBC's or CBS's or anyone else (including random bloggers) interested in relaying information, regardless of the veracity of the information being relayed. To deny individuals those privileges is a form of censorship in my opinion. If you don't think an individual is credible/professional than don't consume their product. But don't tell them they can't report on events or receive the same legal privileges of your preferred reporters because they don't live up to some vague, outdated standard.

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mike mentor December 1, 2011 | 9:53 a.m.

I was thinking more of news reporting with my first post. There is quality op/ed pieces to be found at the more trusted sources. Much better work than what you would get from most bloggers. Hard to make blanket statements. I am sure there are some bloggers that have the education a journalist would, but chose different paths in life.

Ellis, I though those guys from that mining school were supposed to be smart. KU?, Shame on you ;-)

Along those line though, one of my good friends from college just got a contract job writing for a major company in St Louis.

Speaking directly to Davids example at the top of the piece, I think reality tv can be "thanked" for that. There seems to be temptations for "journalists" to create their own stories for more shock value. Again, generate revenue or die...

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Joy Mayer December 1, 2011 | 10:35 a.m.

@John Schultz — We do still use press passes at the Missourian. It can be handy to be easily identifiable in a situation, especially in a crowd. A press pass is not really a ticket to special access, though. If a situation requires access, such as a courtroom or large sporting event, we get permission to attend ahead of time. I wear a press pass sometimes when I'm out and about, though I'm not a reporter these days, so people know where I work and can strike up a conversation if they want to.

@Frank Christian — You know, I've worked here for almost eight years and had no idea the Missourian used to do that. Are you sure it was us? It sounds funny, to be sure, but isn't in line with the professionalism we hope to bring to our work!

As far as the question of defining a journalist goes, I was just having a conversation on another thread about this issue, actually:

It used to be true that whether a person was a journalist was determined by where he got his paycheck. My personal opinion is that it is possible to practice responsible journalism whether anyone pays you or not, and that plenty of people paid to practice journalism fail to uphold professional standards. I think we should spend more time looking at whether individual reports were produced with credibility, transparency and accuracy, and less time trying to differentiate between journalists and bloggers. A blog is a technological tool, not a type of content.

But then again, I represent the wing of the Missourian that David is responding to with this column — one he credits with sending journalism further to the wayside.

Joy Mayer
Director of community outreach
Columbia Missourian

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frank christian December 1, 2011 | 10:41 a.m.

"For example, I do not think Fox News is actually in the news business."

I have to try again Chris. Brit Hume, Fox's Washington Bureau Chief has been in the news business first with ABC about since I started watching tv news and I started with Huntly and the liberal David Brinkley who spent an hour with Cokey Rob'ts and Sam Donaldson disecting HW Bush's plea for return of "family values", then laughingly concluded that they were unable to determine what family values meant. Hume on Fox was first I heard to announce that Ethanol was not as environmentally safe as being professed, was going to cost too much, etc., all the now known faults of this energy source.

Fox anchor Eric Shawn with one from another source, I can't recall, uncovered the U.N. Oil for Food scandal after ex-Fed Chair Paul Volcker "investigated" and announced nothing was amiss.

Isn't it time for you to shake this "prejudice"?

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frank christian December 1, 2011 | 10:51 a.m.

I might have added about Humes reporting on Ethanol, "something conservative rural corn growers did not want to hear."

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking December 1, 2011 | 10:57 a.m.

For the little I hear of it, the news reporting on Fox seems very dry, neutral and factual. It's the commentary that tends to the right.


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Ellis Smith December 1, 2011 | 11:14 a.m.

mike mentor:

Sorry, but KU is incorrect. In fact I don't believe KU has a broadcast journalism program, although maybe they do.

Here's a hint: the university in question has one of the oldest AM radio stations in the United States and it HAD one of the oldest TV stations (ABC affiliate) in the Midwest. "HAD," because the state legislature sold the station to privatization. The station is still very much in operation but is no longer part of the university.

If our legislature gets desperate for money...

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frank christian December 1, 2011 | 1:50 p.m.

Joy M. - I thought of the J-School/SEP lampoon as an "all work and no play" sort of project and don't believe anyone regarded it as being less than professional. At any rate, it was a long, long time ago and, not surprisingly, I'm unable to find anything on Google. Thanks for answering me.

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Mark Flakne December 1, 2011 | 3:17 p.m.

‎"Moreover, changes in technology and society have made the lines between private citizen and journalist exceedingly difficult to draw. The proliferation of electronic devices with video-recording capability means that many of our images of current events come from bystanders with a ready cell phone or digital camera rather than a traditional film crew, and news stories are now just as likely to be broken by a blogger at her computer as a reporter at a major newspaper. Such developments make clear why the news-gathering protections of the First Amendment cannot turn on professional credentials or status." US Court of Appeals 1st Circuit

Glik v. Cunniffe

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Joy Mayer December 1, 2011 | 3:46 p.m.

@Mark Flakne, thanks for the quote.

Here's a link to that case, in case anyone's interested:

And here's a perspective about it from the Citizen Media Law Project:

Joy Mayer,
Columbia Missourian

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Christopher Foote December 1, 2011 | 4:07 p.m.


Television is rarely a useful source for news. I prefer the written word, though I do occasionally enjoy Charlie Rose.
That being said, some networks are better at informing their viewers than others. Conversely, some are better at misinforming their viewers, especially to advance a political agenda. Example here (page 15 if you don't want to read the whole thing):
I'm going to opine that if you look at the link, you'll come back here and say the three misperceptions are truths. Perhaps we can chalk you up as one more data point in the study?

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin December 1, 2011 | 5:40 p.m.

Considering how many stories of mine have been picked up by my more traditional brethren over the years -- sometimes several in a single week -- I agree with Flakne and the US Court of Appeals.

What I've found particularly galling of late, however, is the sustained whining people in my arena have endured from so-called traditional media types.

Stop swiping our stuff without credit, or given that we're doing your legwork, shut the heck up about how awful it is to be challenged by non-traditional sources that are on the rise everywhere.

I read recently about some sort of ridiculous "news deficit" a former FCC adviser was crowing about at RJI. A lot of nonsense about how no one was picking up the slack from the decline of newspapers, etc.

As for this "sea of imposters" business, not only are the so-called imposters picking up the slack, but we're almost keeping the ship afloat because traditional types are no longer willing -- or able, because they're not paid enough -- to do the prospecting and chop busting necessary to break or even find great stories.

Everybody in media wants to be loved anymore, but that's not what makes good reporting.

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frank christian December 1, 2011 | 6:09 p.m.

Chris F. - We are discussing the "news business" and you give me an opinion poll? Fox News might be called my primary source for current events. I watch it regularly because I know I will be apprised of events as they happened, how they happened. I read my newspaper page by page, nightly. (sorry Missourian) If I question any of those reports (possibly differences from other TV), I check them out, only having online availability the few years I've been conversing with you. I compile that data and form an opinion from it, never from the opinion of someone else. No weekly magazines including Nat'l Review are in my mix. I somehow am able to recall some events and figures and am mentally "hit" when I hear or read inaccuracies.

I never believed any of the misperceptions, your pollsters reveal. I know Saddam used wmd on his own people, the Kurds. I am aware of the reports that convoys of trucks were noted going into Syria and know that wmd's were not the only reason for the invasion. Also know that Bush wasted months gathering U.N. approval and had the votes that would have been invalidated with the veto of then President, now indicted J. Chirac of France, who put his business dealings with Saddam before the safety of his and our people.

I honestly cannot conceive of a reason why you would bother with pollsters in these matters, unless it is for something to lay on ignorant conservatives such as I. Nice hearing from you.

(Report Comment)
Jack Hamm December 2, 2011 | 7:43 a.m.

For Frank:

"One of the real changes comes when you start running for President -- as opposed to being an analyst on Fox -- is I have to actually know what I'm talking about."- Newt Gingrich 11-29-11

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frank christian December 2, 2011 | 8:03 a.m.

Chris - More thought about news sources. I forgot C-SPAN. I used to watch them a lot (note my spelling) before I became "computerized". That source is where I first heard Geo. Soros say, in an interview with Brian Lamb, "The rights in the Bill of Rights should not be inalienable, we should be able to change them." Where did you hear him say that?

(Report Comment)
Greg Allen December 2, 2011 | 12:19 p.m.

On Bott Radio I often hear them say that they present 'Christian news'. For the life of me, I can't figure out how Christian news differs from other news unless it's biased. News is news, if we're differentiating facts from opinions or worldviews.

Perhaps it would be helpful to distinguish 'reporters' from 'journalists'. Anyone can report. Journalists are trained in the craft, including the ethics. We've always had people pretending to practice medicine without the proper training and licensure, but we consider this serious enough that it's a crime to do so. Perhaps in the interest of the health of our culture we should do so with journalism. But that brings us back to the point that Mr. Rosman started with, that the definition of a journalist is a murky creature. I wish I had a solution.

And investigative reporting used to be more common. I respect the heck out of those who still do it. Some of the commenters are right: when media pared down news staffs and we lost the employed journalists who investigated, concerned individuals picked up the slack. Emphasizes the need for the rest of us to have critical thinking skills, to be able to tell which of them are credible.

(Report Comment)
Jimmy Bearfield December 2, 2011 | 12:35 p.m.

Reporters are a type of journalist. Editors are another type.

(Report Comment)
Jim Michaelson December 2, 2011 | 1:17 p.m.

@Greg Allen - are you suggesting that mainstream media outlets are *not* biased? I'd be interested in your comments on this article:

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams December 2, 2011 | 1:22 p.m.

Journalists look for hidden "agendas"; that's where the main story is.

But they never acknowledge the value of a really good "gotcha" to their own agenda:

Selling news.

(PS: Are rich publishers the 1%, or the 99%? Who put them in whatever category they are in?)

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith December 2, 2011 | 1:56 p.m.

I again assert that of the various recognized professions in this country there only seem to be TWO where the membership goes on and on - ad nauseum - about [their] professional ethics. Why is that?

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams December 2, 2011 | 2:51 p.m.

Ellis Smith: I again assert that of the various recognized professions in this country there only seem to be TWO where the membership goes on and on - ad nauseum - about [their] professional ethics.

journalists and MUST grads?


(I couldn't resist)

(Report Comment)
Michael Williams December 2, 2011 | 2:56 p.m.

Ellis: And the two groups to which you refer utterly fail to police themselves adequately.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith December 2, 2011 | 6:34 p.m.

Michael Williams:

If you monitor their conversations (which are apt to be about business, sex, and whatever professional sports are in season - but not necessarily in that order) I think you'll find that engineers discuss professional ethics about as often as prostitutes discuss virginity, and it matters not which campus they attended. Of course it could be different for the guys and gals from Georgia Tech: as their school song says, they "take their whiskey clear." :)

I think we both know which occupations we're discussing.

(Report Comment)

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