I really planned to post this story about chaos in Libya from The Guardian on its merits, but then something caught my eye: Under the byline is a button labeled, “Jump to comments.”
Jump to comments? Without reading the story? I shouldn’t be surprised, I suppose, because that’s where my profession is heading. Cut back on professional journalists, and rely on “citizen journalists” instead. Jump to the comments of people who have never been within 5,000 miles of the place under discussion, but whose opinions, in their view and in the view of this newspaper, are of equal weight to the expert they sent to cover the story on the scene, often risking his or her life to do it.
Jump to comments. You’ve probably heard me say that I’m glad I’m near the end of my career as a journalist, a career that stretches back to the mid-60s. If I had to start over today, I wouldn’t. I’d probably stay in academia. As far as I know, there are no “citizen PhD’s.” At least not yet.
Journalism is a tough, demanding profession — physically, mentally, emotionally and morally. It takes years and years of training and experience to get it right, and even then, there are gross failures. The post above, about the suppression of Israel’s 2008 peace proposal, is a disgusting example of that. The takeaway, though, is not that journalists are to be ignored. The takeaway is that this profession is so difficult and so demanding that even the best can’t get it right every time. So there is absolutely no hope that an untrained “citizen journalist” or a puffed-up commenter who believes his truth outweighs the evidence presented by someone who actually covered a story can hope to get it right at all. I will endorse the concept of citizen journalist the day after everyone else accepts the concept of citizen dentist, citizen brain surgeon or even citizen plumber.
So let’s reject the whole concept of “jump to comments.” For our own good.