Last month, broadcast TV lifer Morely Safer of CBS’s 60 Minutes fame appeared on CSPAN and pronounced himself “appalled” by the denizens of the new media.
Citizen journalists aren’t trained well enough to be trusted as a source of news, Safer declared to CSPAN’s Brian Lamb on Sept. 13.
In fact, he’s downright “appalled” by the whole idea of Internet journalism and seems to wish it would all just go away. We need to leave the “reporting” to him and his professional class of “real” journalists, Safer sonorously declared.
The question about citizen journalism was put to Safer after host Lamb showed the aged newsman a clip of former Daily Caller correspondent Michelle Fields. On the clip, Fields was seen celebrating the advent of the new media.
Safer, a Canadian, admitted that he “sounds like a Neanderthal” with his hatred of citizen journalism — which, he said, he’d trust as much as he’d trust “a citizen surgeon” — nonetheless he rejects the idea that mere citizens can be a legitimate source of news reporting.
Safer’s arrogance, here, is rich. First of all, to equate journalism to the art and decades of training it takes to make a surgeon is a hilarious conceit. But to imagine that only his professional class should be considered “real” journalists is wholly ignorant of most of the true history of journalism in America. Few of the most famous journalists of history had what Safer would feel is the “proper” training to become journalists. In fact, journalism schools are a rather new invention, relatively speaking, and may soon be a curriculum of the past if the trend of eliminating such programs continues in our universities.
Of course, Safer is correct that the job of an editor is important whether for all those “real journalists” or otherwise. But having an editor is no guarantee that an end product will be “real reporting,” either. Just ask Safer’s colleague, Dan Rather!
But really, all one needs for good journalism is a competent writer and a dedication to the truth. Like anything, there are skills the job requires and certainly not everybody has those skills. But Safer’s contention that only his approved class of “real journalists” should be allowed to deliver the news is simply arrogance beyond belief.
In fact, one reason his preferred system was built was to skew the “news” in a particular political direction. Long ago Safer’s beloved profession went from being a straight forward reporting of the news to an effort at creating the news. The tightly controlled — and now disappearing – media establishment Safer is hanging onto was made to screen out any opposing ideas just as much as it was to professionalize the end product.
Of course, Safer’s whole mien is self-serving. He was once one of those “real reporters” that was the gatekeeper of all that is “news.” Now his monopoly has been shattered and his control of the media no longer a lock. It is natural to decry the loss of such supreme power. Who wouldn’t long for the good old days in such a situation?
In the end, he may be more like a dinosaur than a Neanderthal.
Brian Lamb: Reaction, sir.
Morley Safer: Appalled. I’m appalled! I mean I don’t know quite if she thinks this is a good idea? Uh…
Lamb: Uh, no, she does.
Safer: She does think it’s a good idea.
Safer: I think it’s a dreadful idea. I mean, journalism, good journalism, good reporting must work within the constraints of great editing. It has to.
I got in trouble a couple of years ago. I was making a speech, I got some award in Canada, and I was talking about the so-called citizen journalism. And I said I would trust citizen journalism as much as I would trust a citizen surgeon.
You need to work within discipline, within certain disciplines. And, uh, I think the Matt Drudges and these and many of these others give the real thing a very bad name. Because now everybody’s on the Internet. I mean, and, one of the problems I have with the Internet in terms of reading… everything looks as valid as The New York Times. Whether it’s the typeface, the way its been set up. So, whether you’re reading some, somebody who, you know, believes aliens are out to get him, or reading something from the oped pages of The New York Times. It all has the same look, the same, makes the same visual sense. And, um, I know I’m sounding like a Neanderthal when I say this, but, uh, I’m just appalled by half the stuff that I see on the Internet.