(Jason Stverak) – On May 11th, Michigan State Senator Bruce Patterson introduced legislation to license reporters to ensure they’re credible and vet them for “good moral character.”
Patterson told Fox News that some reporters covering state politics don’t know what they’re talking about and they’re working for publications he’s never heard of, so he wants to install a process that’ll help him and the general public figure out which reporters to trust.
In his bill, reporters must provide the licensing board proof of:
• “Good moral character” and demonstrate they have industry “ethics standards acceptable to the board.”
• Possession of a degree in journalism or other degree substantially equivalent.
• Not less than 3 years experience as a reporter or any other relevant background information.
• Awards or recognition related to being a reporter.
• Three or more writing samples.
This legislation not only attempts to control the media but it is stepping on the constitutional protections afforded to the press. Although this legislation is voluntary, it represents a dangerous trend that could affect journalism employment, accreditation, and access to politicians. This legislation also reflects a failure to recognize the changing face of media.
People must realize that journalism is being forced to adapt to new economic realities and that means allowing new journalism organizations to fill in where the traditional media is lacking. And one of those areas is in state capitol reporting.
An American Journalism Review study found that only 355 full-time newspaper reporters still are based in state capitols; 44 statehouses have fewer full-time reporters than they did six years ago. The gaping hole in local and state news has left many asking “Who covers the statehouse?”
This hits at the heart of the problem facing the journalism industry. It comes as no surprise that journalism and traditional news businesses are struggling. And while they lay off staff and fail to meet the needs of the public, Americans are demanding more government transparency and the exposure of waste, fraud and abuse.
However, with the decreasing media presence at state capitols, there are fewer media watchdogs working to keep our elected officials and bureaucrats accountable. The American public is calling for ethics and responsibility from those who spend their hard-earned tax dollars. But without the watchful eye of state capitol journalists, these politicians have too many opportunities to deceive, misuse and exploit their own interests over those of their constituents.
This tragic irony will open the door for more political corruption and scandals. The abuse of political power is endless without the presence of reporters willing to allocate the time to expose the truth. The cure for a dishonest politician is a dedicated, and persistent reporter.
In Michigan, Mackinac Center’s Capitol Confidential is providing a valuable service to news consumers. Michigan’s Capitol Confidential realized that as news coverage in the state capital dwindles, it is increasingly important to have outside scrutiny of our elected officials and government bureaucracies.
They provide their readers with balanced, substantive reporting, aided by insightful analysis, hard data and legal expertise. However, with Patterson’s legislation, if he had not heard of them, then Michigan’s Capitol Confidential would have problems getting the state license they need.
Capitol reporters keep the American public abreast on the decisions that are being made in their communities. Our country cannot afford to leave our state and local politicians without accountability and responsibility to their constituency. As more Statehouse News Bureaus are established, more citizens will have the opportunity to take an active role in their government and be better informed voters.
Our country needs more watchful eyes on our elected officials, not legislation that makes it more difficult for the truth to emerge. This legislation is not the answer to determining who are actually journalists. Instead, it prevents new media organizations from reporting on capitol news.
If you are a reporter or a citizen journalist and are interested in getting involved in non-profit journalism, please email Info@FranklinCenterHQ.org. For more information on Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, please visit www.FranklinCenterHQ.org.
(Jason Stverak is president of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity)