July 12, 2009
Follow me on Twitter

On The Profession of Journalism

Doctors and lawyers practice a profession. Journalists have a job.

What is a profession? One crucial mark of a profession is that the profession itself determines the criteria for admitting new people into the profession, and for expelling undesired people from the profession.

No individual can make you a physician or a surgeon. No individual can make you a lawyer — or protect you from disbarment once your colleagues have judged you unfit to practice law. But Rupert Murdoch or Fred Hiatt can make you a journalist tomorrow, by signing a paycheck. Paycheck in hand, you remain a journalist. You may win or lose the respect of your colleagues; you’ll still be a journalist.

If you write for Mr. Murdoch, he may ask your editor to nominate you for a Pulitzer prize, or not. Though you wrote with the tongues of men and angels, if your piece appeared in the Examiner and Mr. Hearst said “no”, you could not receive a Pulitzer. And, though you transgress every rule of the book, demonstrating your incompetence and ineptitude in every line, while the paper employs you, you remain a journalist.

There’s nothing wrong with having a job. My mother wrote for Mr. Hearst. My dad was a physician. When they married, she was better known, and better paid. But it’s a job, not a profession.