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Diplomatic Crisis | Credentials and the Brazilian Citizen Journo

«Journalism is a social asset too important to leave to journalists with diplomas.» — Lúcia Guimarães

The specter of Jeff Gannon haunts the practice of journalism in Brazil.

The arch-conservative blogger made a name for himself — a pseudonym, at any rate — as the holder of a White House press corps credential who was sharply  questioned by colleagues for serving up softball questions that POTUS could hit out of the park.

A classic example was

“How are you going to work with [Senate Democratic leaders] who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?”

A parallel case in Brazil — mutatis mutandis — might be the end-of-the-mandate interviews granted by President Lula to a self-declared group of «progressive bloggers» who engaged in fierce intellectual combat with an unfriendly mainstream media in support of his government.

Also in Brazil, several states have now made academic credentials obligatory for professional journalists, and the Senate passed a similar bill on August 7. Would this law oblige news organizations to justify their hiring to some government agency?

At any rate, the national union of journalists — the job category encompasses public relations as well — is adamant in its support for the diploma.

I simply cannot understand this position, probably because I have yet to fathom Brazilian labor law in general. It seems to me, however, that requiring the licensing of professionals by a government agency — the Ministry of Education — is a potential blow to journalistic independence.

It has already led to a grotesque outcome in the case of an unlicensed  São Paulo journalist Luiz Carlos Barbon in 2007. At the time, Fenaj had to explain why it did not consider the slaying as the murder of a journalist, suitable for inclusion in the roll of fallen journos.

Barbon was self-schooled and unlicensed, but published reports  leading to the imprisonment of corrupt local officials for sex trafficking.

In that context,

Lúcia Guimarães writes for the Estado de S. Paulo, and I translate a passage or three,

I missed my college commencement. I got hung up on a failing grade in statistics, had to repeat the course, and wound up graduating in the middle of the school year. I confess to never having caught up on my statistics. I also confess to not having learned journalism in journalism school. I remember the complacent faculty, the Lacanian weirdo, the fiery communist, the lazy, unprepared lecturer who flirted with her students.

I find it amazing, the number of practicing Lacanian psychotherapists to be found in São Paulo. Not to mention the Reichians and their orgone boxes.

I stopped being a good student after high school. I skipped a lot of classes in college because I was already working as a reporter. I learned the trade on the job.

So did just about everyone I know in the business.

One time, I forgot to prepare the final exercise for a class until the morning of the last day of the term. I took a jelly jar, typed out a bunch of words, cut them up and put the pieces in the jar. I shook up the jar and handed it in, saying it was concrete poetry. I received a B.

Requiring journalists to earn a journalism degree is like obliging a singer to earn a singing degree before taking the stage: a violation of freedom of expression. Not that there are not good journalism programs out there. Columbia University, here in New York, is a machine that churns out admirable professionals. But Columbia is a graduate program, you are only admitted if you already write with a degree of skill that is increasingly rare in our Brazilian press.

The newsrooms were the equivalent of anatomy classes for journalists of my generation. Nowadays, learning the techniques of digital journalism is indispensable. Above all else, however, the journalist should study Portuguese and educate him or herself in history, literature, science, philosophy and political science. Those who make it into the newsroom should have passed muster with the editors and competed with peers, if only for an internship.

Even so, I cannot understand why an economics major who writes well should be prevented from covering the Banco Central in favor of a cub reporter who is easily duped and distracted because he or she cannot decipher financials. I myself was unable to stand in for my colleagues reporting on the restructuring of the external debt in New York. I did not understand the jargon and verbiage used.

Cícero Lucena, the senator from Paraiba, has declared on his Twitter feed that he voted for the obligatory diploma because “democracy depends on journalism that is ethical, professional and technical.” His excellency will forgive me, but this phrase will not survive the copy desk. What does democracy have to do with the professionalization of journalism? What does it have to do with the photographer’s technical ability to focus a camera? Ethics begin in the cradle, at home, are perfected by education and are fundamental to any profession.

I often use the same argument: The basis of journalism is freshman epistemology — a matter of «justified, true beliefs».

Democracy is made possible by journalism, period. When Thomas Jefferson said it was better to live in a country without a government than to live in a country without newspapers, his inspiration was civic-minded, not parochial.

The poor quality of many communications programs erodes democracy by putting thousands of illiterate young people out on the streets; it turns out professionals who are unprepared to  stand up to power and investigate corruption in the ever more sophisticated world created by marketing. It is no accident that Charles Ferguson, winner of the Oscar in 2011 for Inside Job, conducted the most revealing interviews ever about the crash of 2008. The man studied mathematics and earned a doctorate in political science, and so he knew what to ask.

The pretext used by Sergipe senator Antonio Carlos Valadares — that news organizations oppose the diploma because they want to hire cheaper labor — is absurd. The fact is that an epidemic of college journalism programs feeds market distortions that lower salaries. Why was Nunes Ferreira the only senator with the courage to point out the constitutional error? What explains the overwhelming majority of votes in favor?

I do not get these references. Googling …

And what do these lawmakers see as defining the profession in a age in which anyone with a smartphone can narrate and photograph an attack in Afghanisan and simply press «send»? The difference is editorial, and the public declares its preference for good journalism when it invests its attention. A news organization seeking to produce news with cheap, mediocre labor would be the first to profit from the obligatory diploma. .

I confess to not following this part of the argument.

Journalism is a social asset too important to leave to journalists with diplomas.

The crux of the argument appears to be the poor quality of the journalism curriculum, although no facts are adduced to support this claim.