Wouldn’t It Be So Impressive To Be a “Michigan Registered Reporter”?

A couple of people e-mailed me links to this Fox News article, which begins:

Michigan Considers Law to License Journalists

A Michigan lawmaker wants to license reporters to ensure they’re credible and vet them for “good moral character.”

Senator Bruce Patterson is introducing legislation that will regulate reporters much like the state does with hairdressers, auto mechanics and plumbers. Patterson, who also practices constitutional law, says that the general public is being overwhelmed by an increasing number of media outlets–traditional, online and citizen generated–and an even greater amount misinformation.

“Legitimate media sources are critically important to our government,” he said.

He told FoxNews.com 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.

“We have to be able to get good information,” he said. “We have to be able to rely on the source and to understand the credentials of the source.”

Critics say the proposed law will stem press freedoms and is bound to be politicized with disgruntles politicians going after reporters who don’t paint them in a positive light. They say that adding members of the so-called fourth estate to the list of government regulated occupations would likely be found unconstitutional.

“It’s misguided and it’s never going to fly,” said Kelly McBride, media ethics expert, the Poynter Institute. She is currently involved in a project examining the transformation of the journalism profession….

Only much later in the story do we see this important detail: “The bill does not prevent reporters who are not licensed by the state from covering Michigan politics, and registering with the state would be voluntary.” And indeed the bill simply dictates what one has to do to “use the term ‘Michigan registered reporter.'” “A person is not required to become registered under this article to be employed as, or use, the generic label or title of reporter, broadcaster, member of the media, or other similar term.” I assume that “use the term” means “use the term to describe oneself”; if so, then the law might well be constitutional, especially as to use when one is applying for a job (since one’s self-description to employers would then likely be treated as commercial advertising) but probably even if one is describing oneself in one’s newspaper articles. So I suspect that the law is constitutional.

But it’s also pretty silly; whatever the merits of such optional credential mechanisms for some professions, I can’t imagine newspaper readers — or editors — remotely caring whether a particular journalist is in fact a “Michigan registered reporter.”

Incidentally, I was a bit amused by this quote: “‘What’s the definition of a reporter? I haven’t been able to find out? What’s a reporter? What’s a journalist?’ Patterson said. ‘I thought you had to have a degree in journalism but apparently not. I could retire and be a journalist.'” Really? Who thinks you have to have a degree in journalism to be a “reporter” or a “journalist”? Do you have to have a degree in literature to be a novelist? A degree in political science to be a political commentator?

Finally, “The senator said that he feels that there’s no way to tell who’s a legitimate journalist and who’s just rewriting other reporters’ reporting and twisting facts.” Surely a “Michigan registered reporter” credentialing system isn’t going to help with that.