GUEST COLUMN: What is exactly the definition of a journalist in Canada?

I was interviewed on a Victoria radio station earlier this month about an issue now starting to wake up the journalistic community — professionalization

I was interviewed on a Victoria radio station earlier this month about an issue now starting to wake up the journalistic community — professionalization.

I was wearing one of my other hats, that of chair of the Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ), an organization now taking a look at the idea.

Sparking this debate — and that is truly what it is in the media community —  is a plan by the Quebec government to create the title of professional journalist.

Under the Quebec plan, this designation would give those journalists special consideration  — information from government, for example. It’s a plan that has caused a massive uproar within the Quebec journalistic community, with various columnists opining this would put reporters under state control and other strange musings.

I’ve been in favour of professionalization for a long time, although it was a tough conversion.

My husband, who worked in the business for many years and now teaches it at Thompson Rivers University, started researching it and published papers on the idea. He’s in favour of it.

I wasn’t but, having seen how the industry has fractured in recent years, I eventually agreed with him.

Here’s why.

First, who is a journalist? Is it someone who blogs about happenings in the world? Is it someone who grabs a notebook and pen and heads off to some foreign land experiencing conflict, calling themselves a freelancer?

Is simply graduating with a journalism degree enough to be considered one or should there be something else?

As journalists, we seem to have some strange disconnect between how we view ourselves and how we want to be viewed. We want to think of ourselves as professionals, but we don’t want to behave as other professions do.

We are reluctant to establish — let alone enforce — a uniform code of ethics, for example.

We don’t require some ongoing educational upgrading in areas that continuously change, like the laws we deal with or the technology that has me now working on a computer, posting online and using social media.

(Yes, I started even before there were electric typewriters in newsrooms, when there was a handful of women in a predominantly male department of about 160 reporters and editors.)

One of the main reasons I’m in favour of it, though, is because I see it as a sure way we can do something we’re really lousy at — explaining to our consumers what we do, how we do it and,  most importantly, why we do it.

There’s a reason many people don’t trust my profession — we don’t tell them why they should.

We simply call people up, ask them questions and expect them to provide the answers.

We pass judgment on people without explaining why we should have that right.

We owe it to ourselves, too, so that in this world where anyone who knows how to blog can call themselves a reporter, there are some clear definitions out there to sort out the wheat from the chaff.


– Dale Bass is a reporter with Kamloops This Week.