Registering reporters

MPR’s Tom Scheck calls out attention to this little piece of constitutional savagery as described in the Toronto Toldedo Blade.

A Michigan lawmaker crafted a bill that requires reporters to be registered.

Says the columnist:


“I mainly just wanted to stimulate discussion,” he told me. “I didn’t think the bill would be likely to pass, but I thought I’d put it out there and if there was any support from your profession, we’d move forward. Heck, I thought it might be helpful to legitimate journalists,” he said.

Indeed, he made some valid points. “There are fewer legitimate reporters who cover the legislature all the time. I see stuff being written by people I never heard of, and I don’t know whether they have any credentials.

“You have bloggers and editorial writers who write about what we are doing who never come up here and have no idea what’s going on. If I need a plumber, I want one who has credentials and who is licensed by the state.”

So, he reasoned, why not reporters? His bill would set up a governor-appointed board to determine who could be a Michigan Registered Reporter. According to his specifications, successful candidates would have to show that they had a journalism degree, three years of experience, or other qualifications, including letters from already sanctioned reporters.

The columnist — an ombudsman — points out the bill also requires registered reporters to be of good moral character.

  • Matthew H

    If the board registering reporter is part of the state or federal apparatus, then it is certainly a violation of the 1st Amendment. The potential for misuse and the silencing of dissent is just far to high.

  • Jon

    So stop me if I’m wrong, but don’t reporters have some leeway with the law that us “regular” folks don’t? (access to restricted areas, not having to reveal their sources, probably other things…) for that reason it’s probably a good thing to have the licensed.

    For the reasons Matthew lists it’s a terrible Idea for the state to do it.

    Maybe a system of self governance, you aren’t a journalist unless your recognized as such by some board of journalists… Though even that has all kinds of possibilities for control of information.

  • Bob Collins

    Just off the top of my head, I can’t think of any law/regulation that grant reporters access not granted other people. Freedom of Information Act, I believe, is open to all citizens.

    Of course, the media — traditional and otherwise — is at each other’s throats over the entire issue of self-regulation, definition etc. I suppose the only thing that would bring them all together is to unite against a bill like this.

    Also, what you refer to re: sources is a “shield” law. Minnesota doesn’t have one, as far as I know. I don’t know about Michigan.

  • TJ

    As an ex-Web journalist, my experience was that while journalists may not have any advantage in terms of legal access per se, police were much friendlier and gatekeepers in general were happy to give out information, etc. after I identified myself as a member of the press.

  • Jon

    Bob My clip from Wikipedia article on Journalism (note no citations on Wikipedia, this is a perfect demonstration of Why I shouldn’t get a Journalist license if there ever was such a thing.)

    “In the United States, there has never been a right to protect sources in a federal court. Some states provide varying degrees of such protection. However, federal courts will refuse to force journalists to reveal sources, unless the information the court seeks is highly relevant to the case, and there’s no other way to get it. Journalists, like all citizens, who refuse to testify even when ordered to can be found in contempt of court and fined or jailed.”

    Sounds like there might be some unwritten rules around what journalists rights actually are in federal courts. Though with the post earlier today about comments on blogs being content also, can I call my self a journalist now that I’ve commented on your blog?

  • Elizabeth T

    The question of “registration” should not be off limits to journalists. Several other professions have such things. Including, I might note, Lawyers.

    What would the purpose be, however?

    With other professions, there is some sort of examination to determine one’s professional qualifications, education, knowledge, and ethical fitness. Registered Nurses, Members at the Bar, Certified Public Accountants.

    I would question what the general public will do with a Registered Journalist. How does that differentiate Jane from John? Will one get preferential treatment, or just more money?

    If there are no legal differences, then it’s a moot point, where someone can hang a pretty piece of paper on their wall.

    What are you, if you’re a journalist but not registered?

    I am planning to get my CIH (certified industrial hygienist) in a few years. Today I’m still an industrial hygienist. The presence or absence of those 3 letters doesn’t change the fact that I am still a member of this profession. The Certification will demonstrate – to anyone who cares – that I have demonstrated a specific baseline of knowledge and education. This is a highly technical and scientific profession, where this can be very beneficial. The same applies to law or medicine or nursing.

    No slam on journalists, but you have a completely different skill set than these professions. What would such ‘registration’ get you? You can write 4″ without grammatical error?

    If the only criteria is to have a journalism degree, 3 years or experience, and to be free of moral turpitude … what’s the point at all? The first 2 are easily checkable. The 3rd is a pipe dream: no one can prove a negative.

    This would – I infer – restrict a journalist’s employment with respect to the gov’t. Government could simply require all journalistic contact with the governor/legislature/etc. be made by a registered person. If they – as is suggested here – are already chosen by the government, it automatically creates a little cadre of journalists totally at the whim of those in power. Are you really going to print that, Johnny, because I can always recind your little registration card … and you won’t be able to work in St. Paul any more …

    And, of course … Who defines these criteria? The absolute LAST group who should have any say in the matter is the government, which would have the greatest interest in limiting your profession.

    And, seriously … who the hell thinks implementing legislature is a good idea for “starting a discussion”?? What a waste of the legislature’s limited time. And therefore a waste of my tax dollars. (I own property in Michigan & therefore do pay taxes there.) Idiots.

  • Bob Collins

    // I would question what the general public will do with a Registered Journalist

    You know who would have LOVED this idea?

    Nixon.