Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, has made a proposal which may, at last, turn journalism into a real profession. He told the Leveson inquiry this week that journalists should be accredited by a body of self regulation. Only those accredited journalists would be free to attend press conferences.
Regulation through press cards
This way, he says, journalism could regulate itself by withdrawing press passes from errant members. And the ability to eject errant members is one quality of a profession.
The debate about journalism being a profession or a set of crafts has raged for a long time. There’s a good argument from the 1970’s that journalism is a craft and should remain so. Professions tend to guard their rituals and rights to the detriment of the general public.
I argue with my academic colleagues that journalism is a set of crafts. Most of them want to see it as a profession. One pair of students I asked this of said immediately: “Yes, it’s a profession.” I outlined my case and then both wrote in their essays that it was a set of crafts.
Professions control entry, activities and exit
To me a profession controls entry, and polices its members to adhere to its code of conduct. Doctors, dentists, accountants and others managed to make themselves into professions in the 19th century in the UK. Journalists failed.
And that failure resonates today. Without a professional regulatory process, the individual is left to act according to their internal moral compass. And we have seen that some journalists do not have an internal moral compass. They just want to or are forced to get the story, by whatever means.
Down with the car salesmen
If we want to be a profession we have to realise that we are close to the bottom of the pile. A 2010 survey showed journalists to be below politicians and bankers in the minds of the UK public. Journalists were alongside car salesmen as the third least trustworthy group. Strangely, there was no mention of estate agents in the journalism.co.uk report.