Professions over time develop internal self-regulating machinery. Various benchmarks and yardsticks are put in place to maintain credibility and ensure the long-term survival of a vocation. Engineers, medical professionals and accountants require extensive training and continuing education paired with grueling exams and peer reviews. Restraints come in various shapes and sizes and are usually levied internally (and occasionally enforced externally). Competency and repeated performance are valued and rewarded, and long-term reputational stakes are at play. But what should we make of the once-noble job originally intended to provide society the facts, events and ideas of the day?
Journalism, an enterprise essential for a free society, has little but editorial staff for internal policing. No exams or re-certifications, no peer reviews, qualifications or other hoops to jump through to ensure a writer is on the up-and-up. Editors can filter for poorly researched, ill-motivated or sloppily written work in the short term, but they are simultaneously stewards of the outlet in the long term. They look out for its profitability, its stability and its credibility. And when the editor’s incentives align with the broader good of the vocation, both flourish.