Letters to the Editor
Readers write about why journalists deserve better pay, not lower.
Journalists deserve respect – and a decent wage
In regard to the May 19 Opinion piece, "Why journalists deserve low pay": I am amazed by author Robert G. Picard's argument that "journalists are not professionals with a unique base of knowledge such as professors or electricians."
Has Mr. Picard ever spent any time in journalism? Does he not realize that it takes years of (usually on-the-job) experience to understand how to ferret out a story and present it to the reader in an easily digestible yet informative fashion?
Unlike professors, journalists do not acquire knowledge in order to selectively impart it to their audience. Rather, like electricians, they use it to do their job. Without this knowledge, they would simply rehash press releases, parrot officials' statements, and ignore important nuances in speeches and reports.
Many reporters also acquire specialized knowledge such as languages, science, and technical skills in order to bring you better news, faster.
It's easy to belittle the value created by journalists when you're writing from an ivory tower.
Alas, the esteemed professor of media economics Robert G. Picard fails to make his case in this commentary. His pure market analysis does not account for the existence of the BBC, PBS, NPR or any of the many vehicles that society has created to be sure it has news it needs to know – like investigative reporting that reshapes governments and protects citizens and consumers – not just the news it wants to know.
How an economist can ignore the many billions of dollars that go into nonprofit news systems, especially in Europe, where he's from, is beyond me. It appears, at least in this case, that it's not the journalists who have failed to prove their worth to society. It's the professor of economics who doesn't seem to be earning his pay.
When I read Robert G. Picard's claim that the basic underlying value of the labor of journalists is near zero, I thought of several financial industry analysts I interviewed recently for a story about a particularly secretive investment fund.(I am a journalist.) I asked the analysts where they got the information for their studies. "Mostly from the news media," was often the response I heard.
Mr. Picard says ordinary adults can observe and report news. Right: an untrained person, busy earning his/her living in a more respected line of work, can go to Iraq and figure out what's really going on, can examine the financial statements that the major banks release and figure out what's missing, and can track down politicians' wasteful spending. I think not.
Robert G. Picard should have attacked "the media" rather than "journalists" for failing to "add value." Journalists such the late Daniel Pearl and the recently freed Roxana Saberi still risk their lives to bring us stories worth telling – stories that no telecommuting blogger could duplicate.
Journalists with special beats often do have special knowledge and industry background. But do journalists really need a "unique base of knowledge," or do they need courage, wit, integrity, and instinct? Did Ida B. Wells, the famous black journalist who researched lynching cases in the South, need a Ph.D to go asking tough questions and uncovering the truth?
It's not the fault of the journalists that their trade, like so many others, has become commoditized, and to say they deserve low pay is an insult.
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