Quality indicators -- certifications, evaluations, etc.
So far, this page mainly refers to the United States.
The hardest part of setting up quality indicators on a large scale might be resistance within the industry.
A journalism degree serves as a de facto certification, although it is far from a universal requirement.
Pros and cons
- Arguments for certification
- Help distinguish quality work, or at least those who should be capable of it
- The need is greater, now that the masses have become the media.
- Declining trust in journalism.
- Inadequate media literacy by the public.
- The news industry does not market itself well.
- Higher profile of journalistic embarrassments in recent years.
- Goals for self-improvement and possibly diagnostic help, for the lesser-qualified.
- Arguments against certification
- Could be or lead to licensure and control by the government.
- Choosing to use noncertified journalists could penalize news organizations in court cases. A plaintiff could argue that the news outlet was negligent.
- Too much trouble and cost, for the evaluating body, news organizations, and especially individual journalists.
- Could backfire, with cheap news outlets choosing against hiring certified journalists because their wages should be higher.
- Could stifle innovation.
Potential for government restrictions
The concern about government control appears to be based on the idea that the government shouldn’t decide who is or is not a journalist, because then the government would be more able to deny journalistic privileges, for its own reasons.
But this might be avoided by:
- Certification by professional bodies, not the government.
- Certification in specialty areas, not journalism in general.
- Noncertified journalists still being able to work.
- Ratings on a scale, not an absolute pass-fail choice.
- Certifying mastery, in contrast to basic competency.
Further, the Constitution does not explicitly refer to journalism, but to “speech” and “the press.”
- First Amendment
“Congress must not interfere with freedom of religion, speech or press, assembly, and petition. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Could include one or more of the following
- Tests –- Might demonstrate knowledge more than practice.
- Education and training –- Could exclude qualified people for artificial reasons. Also, “seat time” in a class does not correlate perfectly with results.
- Review of work – This would be more effective if the work examined were a random sample than if the work were chosen by the subject of the examination. But such a review could mask problems corrected by editing.
Existing standards: TV weather
The American Meteorological Society has two certifications for weather journalists: the seal of approval and the certified broadcast meteorologist seal. "The main difference between the two programs is education and the exam. To apply for the CBM, applicants must hold a bachelor’s or higher degree in atmospheric science or meteorology (or the equivalent) from an accredited college/university. Current AMS Sealholders (those that earned the Seal prior to January 1, 2005) are not required to meet this criteria. These Sealholders may qualify for the CBM designation if they pass the written exam. All CBM applicants must pass the written exam to earn the CBM designation."
The group apparently doesn't have certification for meteorologists in general.
For more information, see the AMS page.
The National Weather Association also offers a seal for broadcast meteorologists.
- Medical journalism
Certification for medical journalists (or broadcast medical journalists) has been proposed by Gary Schwitzer, director of graduate studies for the M.A. in health journalism at the University of Minnesota, and Timothy Johnson, a doctor and medical editor for ABC News See Schwitzer’s article, at Columbia Journalism Review, June 2005.
The idea of certification for copy editors came up at the first conference of the American Copy Editors Society in 1997. It was discussed online for a time, but within the organization, the idea largely died out around 1999 or 2000.
One way in which copy editing might be more ripe for certification than other specialties is that applicants are usually tested anyway, with in-house tests. ACES' Web site includes a large sampler of test questions and answers.
Another instance of wider testing is that which had been given by The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C., to college students every year at its diversity job fair (often about 70 students). The N&O encourages all the students attending to take the test, even if they are not interested in copy editing. The idea is that the skills and knowledge also apply to other newsroom jobs, although in different proportions.
- Washington correspondents
The Senate and House press galleries are places where lobbyists and press agents would hang out if they could. To do the job of distinguishing between real and pretend journalists, Congress created the Standing Committee of Correspondents, which reviews applications for admission to the galleries. Members are elected by their peers.
This peer review process works well enough that Congressional accreditation has been made a prerequisite for a White House press pass. Because government authority is behind it, this process comes close to licensing -- except that it does not restrict what anyone might say or write. It just determines access to the physical spaces where news happens.
The system creates a bias in favor of older media forms, and new media have historically had a difficult time in gaining admission: broadcasters in their day and bloggers today.
Other current or potential voluntary indicators
- Ombudsmen, see the Organization of News Ombudsmen.
- Ethics codes for each news operation easily findable by the public.
- Clear corrections policy, easily findable by the public.
- Staff information, such as bios and contact information for individual works and the staff as a group, easily findable by the public.
- News councils
In short, news councils examine serious complaints against news organizations. They make public findings but not punishments.
Some news organizations do their own accuracy checks. Some of this was spurred by the Jayson Blair debacle. For example, The News & Observer regularly sends questionnaires to sources, asking them about the accuracy of stories.
- United States
Grade the News had regularly performed evaluations of news organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area. The Web site is still being update, but its funding has lapsed. News Trust volunteers rate individual stories against journalistic standards.
- United Kingdom
In the U.K., multiple tests are used, including for reporters, photographers and "sub-editors" (copy editors). For more information, see the National Council for the Training of Journalists.
- Discussion thread at the Society of Professional Journalists, August 2007
- Negative reaction from Tim Porter, First Draft, February 2005, to Philip Meyer’s call for certification in the last chapter of “The Vanishing Newspaper"
- Certification for education and students
- J-school accreditation Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications
- High school students -- “The PEARL World Youth News (PEARL) Reporter Certification Program is aimed to help secondary school students get started as international correspondents for a global youth news service.”
- Scholastic journalism teachers’ certification – two levels
Discussion about possible blogger’s ethics code, at Cyber Journalist