How often have you, as a journalist, been asked to provide proof that you are, in fact, a journalist? At least one NPR.org contributor has been asked several times lately.
Alan Greenblatt explains in his story today that increasingly, government officials are asking him to prove his official journalist status before granting him interviews. Tides have turned and now it’s not just the reporter doing background research, but the sources are backgrounding the reporters.
The other day, I arranged to speak with Bob Wirch, a Democratic state senator in Wisconsin. The morning of our appointment, I received a call from one of his aides, instructing me to bring along a press badge or some other credential that included a picture and identified me as a reporter.
This rarely happens. In some 20 years of interviews, less than a handful of people have ever asked me to prove that I was the reporter I was claiming to be.
But, increasingly, elected officials and their staffs are checking journalistic bona fides, going online to read old stories and check out photos.
He points to other instances where this was the case, and notes the irony that the people politicians most need to be on guard against are not those allegedly pretending to be journalists — when someone says they’re a journalist you should be on your guard about what you say because the whole point is other people will hear about it — but from people who gain access and broadcast gaffes never intended to be shared.
His point, however, had me wondering… should you need to prove you’re a journalist? What type of proof is enough? What if you’re not working for an agency that hands out press badges? What’s stopping you from printing up your own press badge and business cards? It’s not like you apply for a license to be a journalist and can hand out your license number to verify with the state, as electricians or plumbers do. (I hope nobody gets any bright ideas.) And it’s not like medical professions where you need a certain degree and set of training to perform the job; you simply do not need a degree in journalism to prove you know how to ask who, what, when, where, why and how, and then write it up accurately. Plenty of good reporters didn’t learn those skills in the classroom. And plenty of bad reporters have a degree but still didn’t learn to apply those skills well.