Over the past few weeks, two of my colleagues in the Missourian have produced excellent columns concerning standards (or lack thereof) in journalism.
One, David Rosman, employs the term "citizen journalist" to distinguish between us and the professional — embodied in the second, George Kennedy, a member of the Missouri School of Journalism faculty since 1974 and former managing editor of the Missourian.
I am in general agreement with Mr. Rosman with one exception: I won't call myself a journalist in that I did not pay my dues in the "grunt work" required to graduate from an established school of journalism.
Instead, I am an opinion columnist with the commensurate life and professional experiences to lend a measure of credibility to my expressed opinions and conclusions. Not everyone agrees with that assessment.
Rosman's questions — Who (what) is a journalist? Must one be paid to be a journalist? When is a blogger a journalist? — are germane.
In responding, I am reminded of a line in "Deadline — U.S.A.," (starring Humphrey Bogart as a crusading managing editor), one of the really authentic and well-acted newspaper movies ever made.
In the film, night editor Jim Cleary (played by Jim Backus) interviewed a prospective hire by asking if he knew the difference between a journalist and a reporter.
Cleary answered his own question: "A journalist makes himself the hero of the story. A reporter is only the witness."
In my opinion, a bona fide journalist, whether a reporter or opinion writer, paid or unpaid, must write or speak for an established publication. This publication must be guided by reasonable rules and regulations as to the veracity of content and source material and, most important, subject to verification and oversight by professional editors.
Consequently, Internet bloggers, uncredentialed independents, sensationalist video wielders and provocateurs are not journalists inasmuch as they are not held to any standard of ethics, truth or responsibility for their product.
Rosman's statement that "Freedom of the press comes with a price — integrity, honesty, good faith and professionalism" is an obligation that must be maintained.
In the realm of political opinion, George Kennedy and I are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Nevertheless, his professional and personal credentials in his field are impeccable — he sets high journalistic standards for himself in his teaching, as well as in his opinion pieces.
George's column, "10 standards that inform serious coverage of the news," in which he introduces the requirement that his students read "The Elements of Journalism" and further identifying the guiding principles, is a work equally admirable for its simplicity and its applicability to writers and readers alike.
Each of the principles is equally urgent, but, I find three of them to be "more equal" than the others.
They are: "Journalism's first obligation is to the truth;" "Its essence is a discipline of verification;" and "It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise."
Truth in journalism and the discipline achieved by verification separate the reputable news sources from the supermarket tabloids and from the blogs as represented by the Daily Kos and the Drudge Report.
And, whether reporting news or opinion, without a public medium for discussion and/or criticism, there is little to inspire credibility or interest.
Returning to Mr. Rosman's "citizen journalists," while I don't agree with his identification of those of our ilk as having earned the title, he and I, along with others, provide a service as opinion columnists.
We (collectively) have a wide range of professional, personal and political knowledge and skills that enable us to interpret the news and render opinions proportional to our frames of reference.
Unlike bloggers, wannabe and faux journalists and political hacks, we are subject to an editorial oversight that "holds our feet to the fire" in requiring verification of source materials as the basis for opinions stated as facts.
Occasionally, this can be somewhat of an irritant; nevertheless, it is a necessary evil in maintaining the integrity of the publication.
Journalism is generally considered the world's second oldest profession. Its professionals should not permit it to rank as the second most ethical.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via email at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.