Critical Thinking: Should Journalists Be Required to Earn a License in Order to Practice Journalism?

Critical Thinking

Online media CEO Linda Wood recently testified to the Canadian parliamentary Heritage Committee that ‘in the same way that lawyers have to be certified, we could have those kinds of structures for journalism because right now, we’re in a pretty dangerous situation.’ Should journalists be required to earn a license in order to practice journalism?


Grace Carson_r2_webGrace Carson, 20, sophomore, University of Denver

Carson is a journalism and political science double major. She currently serves as the opinions editor for the student-run newspaper, the Clarion.

After the 2016 presidential election, many questioned the role “fake news” had on the results, causing a general fear among the public that unreliable journalism is much more harmful than previously believed. So Linda Wood’s comments comes as no surprise, as it only voices the fear and concern that many others similarly have. How can we make sure that news is reliable and trustworthy?

While wanting news to be reliable is understandable, we must remember that journalism isn’t made trustworthy by making the career less accessible. There is plenty of good, honest journalism that comes from underground blogs and websites, and from people who have never taken proper journalism classes. Likewise, there is plenty of faulty, deceptive journalistic work from those who have a degree in the subject.

Without citizen journalism, it is arguable that the coverage of protests like those in the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota would not be as valuable. In fact, the protestors of the Dakota Access Pipeline relied heavily on citizen journalism to spread the word of the events happening on the reservation. Citizen journalism covers what major media cannot, and this would not be possible if every journalist needed to be licensed.

As a student journalist for the University of Denver’s student-run newspaper, the Clarion, I am not yet “certified” to be a journalist, as I have not yet earned my degree. Yet those who write for our paper play a vital role in reporting the news on campus, as well as voicing the opinion of the students. Without these reporters, there would be no one to lift student voice and highlight events on campus. Writing before we are qualified gives us experience, which in turn, makes us more qualified to be journalists once we receive our degrees.

Giving the government the power to decide who should or shouldn’t be able to provide news threatens freedom of press. All people should have the right to convey opinions and information in writing, whether anyone deems them qualified to do so or not. To censor who can and cannot convey information is to limit the access to information to the public. It is important that all voices are able to be heard, not just those the government chooses qualified.


Steve Henson

Steve Henson, 62, managing editor and editorial page editor, The Pueblo (Colo.) Chieftain

Henson has worked in the media industry for 43 years. He is a past president and board chairman of the Colorado Press Association.

Our profession didn’t exactly shine this past election cycle.

It was evident that subscriptions and clicks drove the agendas of TV networks and national newspapers. During the primary election cycle, for example, one network turned into (almost) Trump TV 24/7 with carefully selected talking (screaming) heads to endlessly regurgitate every statement, word and comma.

Add to that the barrage of fake news stories, of endless claims and vicious debates on social media such as Twitter, and it’s not surprising that Americans don’t know which media outlets or individuals they can trust.

Nor is it surprising that some want journalists to be licensed.

However, that is a terrible idea that all media—from the local citizen writing a regular blog about the local school board to the finest New York Times reporter—must oppose.

The problem lies in who would do the licensing. Since there is no way that the press, broadcast and internet media could ever come together, set standards and form a licensing entity—we wouldn’t want to do that anyway—the licensing would be handled by the government.

And that’s the reason this is a bad idea.

The Founders passionately believed a separation needed to exist between the press and government. If the government licensed journalists, it also could deny licenses to those reporters or institutions it deemed unworthy.

Imagine if Richard Nixon would have had the power to take away the licenses of Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. It’s likely we never would have known about Watergate.

Imagine if someone on a licensing board were a devout Catholic and insisted on denying licenses to the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team. The Globe’s stories that exposed the church’s vast scheme to hide pedophiles and other religious who sexually assaulted their flock likely wouldn’t have been printed.

In the end, any “licensing” must be performed by readers and viewers, who have and will judge each media’s reports by the standards of fairness and accuracy. If we fail, we will lose those readers, viewers and followers.

Control the media, our Founders argued, and you lose your democracy. That should be the end of the argument regarding licensing journalists.


Follow by Email
Visit Us

15 thoughts on “Critical Thinking: Should Journalists Be Required to Earn a License in Order to Practice Journalism?

  • February 15, 2017 at 4:49 am

    This foolish idea about “licensing” journalists only ever seems to come from within the ranks of the media priesthood itself. There is a constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech (or of expression, if you are Canadian) and that applies to everyone, journalists or not. Journalists apply rules of ethics to what they write, which in theory should add to their credibility, but so do a lot of other writers who aren’t journalists.

    There are plenty of good, reliable writers who are not “journalists”, and plenty of crap ones who are. The educational background of many journalists can charitably be described as a high school education with some post-secondary writing courses. It is no wonder so many are innumerate, and naive about the workings of courts, government, and business. Other writers who are not “journalists” may have had more extensive post-secondary education, worked in different fields other than journalism, and have seen more of life and humanity in general. Who is going to be the more credible writer?

    Freedom of speech (or expression) is for everybody. “Journalists” don’t have a monopoly on it that can be controlled through licences, no matter who issues them.

    • April 30, 2017 at 6:06 pm

      It is time for licensing… the number of morons parading around as journalists today is disturbing and dangerous.. why do the the self righteous believe they are above the law or above regulation??? The First Amendment does not give you unlimited power.

  • February 15, 2017 at 6:11 am

    Just like hacking. Licensed or unlicensed journalist do not matter. If it’s on the internet, from here forward and almost since day 1, there will always be a way to sneak in fake, agenda-driven propaganda passing itself off as news. It will never stop until the internet is fully regulated. How people can’t see and understand this is the mind-boggling part. I think it is because there are so many older people who are clueless about the internet and afraid of looking old that they can’t stand up for what they believe in, print news. Online news is for amateurs. That’s why anybody can do it. Newspapers only sink to a lower level trying to keep up with ways to be relevant online.

  • February 15, 2017 at 6:23 am

    This is a very interesting question. I thought I’d offer a bit of “historical perspective” regarding a time when the question of licensing of journalists was discussed at the international level.

    Back in the 1970s and 1980s when the UN Agency UNESCO (headquartered in Paris) was proposing the very-much debated New World Information Order, the question of licensing of journalists was hotly debated.

    Key positions on this issue more or less corresponded to geo-political realities, with the then-Soviet bloc countries being very much in favor of licensing of journalists, while US/Western countries were just as adamantly opposed to this notion.
    The position of the US & allies was that licensing of journalists would be the antithesis of freedom of press, as it would necessarily involve “government control of the press.” (This position was, of course, strongly articulated by Non-governmental Western journalists’ associations at the UN as well as major Western news outlets. )

    The issue was never “resolved” with both sides strongly staking out their positions. The issue of licensing also spilled over into the Protection of Journalists in war zones. One argument was that if war correspondents were clearly able to identify themselves as journalists (i.e. with a government-issued “credential”) this would offer some measure of protection in combat zones.

    The issue has now become much more complex with the rise of citizen journalists & social media.

    It is definitely a subject worthy of discussion given recent issues of coverage of elections, protests, and the fact that readers now have so many different news sources.

  • February 15, 2017 at 7:13 am

    Something needs to be done. As it stands now, anyone who can pick up a pencil is anointed with the name journalist.
    Actually, there needs to be some sort of weeding process to limit the number of pretenders that claim to be journalists but are actually fiction and public relation writers.
    How about the following:
    BA Degree in English/Minor in Journalism
    MS Degree in Psychology
    A professional license in Writing/Journalism Ethics.
    Journalism License review and renewal every two years.
    A national reference listing stating the writer/journalist:
    (a) Political party affiliation/ or liberal, conservative, independent
    (b) Sexual orientation
    (c) Criminal background check

    NOTE: The above is necessary in order to inform readers of the writer, thus knowing exactly and precisely the platform the writer/journalist is reporting.

  • February 15, 2017 at 7:30 am

    The First Amendment precludes licensing journalists. End of story.

    • December 9, 2017 at 11:06 pm

      a 14 year old kid who cant legally vote has to have a License to Mo a lawn Why shouldn’t we Tax and hold Journalist accountable?

  • February 15, 2017 at 8:34 am

    I have been a long-time critic of journalists in general because of the overwhelming prevalence of bias or politically slanted reporting. I would prefer to see all journalists achieve certification in “canons of ethics” for journalists rather than possess a license in journalism unless ethics is the main curriculum for the license.

  • February 15, 2017 at 12:44 pm

    If someone lost their license to be a journalist, then what? Would they become a press secretary?

  • February 15, 2017 at 4:47 pm

    Only a dictator or the uninformed would support licensing of journalists. Journalists are imprisoned in third world nations for practicing journalism without a license, and journalists with licenses self censor out of fear of losing them. Not exactly an arrangement that lends itself to holding the powerful accountable, is it? We should want the press to be a watchdog on the powerful, not their lapdogs.

    Millions of Americans engage in the act of journalism each week when they blog and state their opinions about important issues. Would they be banned from stating their opinions because they do not have licenses? No? OK, but then who would decide among the communicators who must have a license and those who do not, and by what criteria would these decisions be made? Would you support letting Trump’s administration determine this? And what about the fact that most journalism is local, which the Trump people would not want to be bothered with? Imagine the gross inefficiency of a glacially slow government stiffling innovation in news delivery as new start ups await licenses. Such a system would be a monstrous waste of taxpayer money and an open invitation to silence the free press.

  • February 16, 2017 at 6:22 am

    Only if all clergy have to go to seminary first in order to claim tax exemption instead of “proclaiming” themselves ministers. Free speech means free speech. It’s everybody’s right. Who’s up next? A license to be a a political satirist? If politicians can’t stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen.

  • February 17, 2017 at 5:45 am

    Journalists should only be licensed once Presidents are also licensed!

  • March 10, 2017 at 1:40 pm

    Any form of licensing is a product of fear by authorities who in turn seek to inflict terror on populations and rule them in total servitude. Imagine a situation where all the tongues of women and men are cut and the amputees are left, not only in pain but also without the ability to tell how painful it is!

  • March 17, 2017 at 9:26 am

    My concern as an editor of a small weekly is that if allowed to continue on the way we have been doing things in today’s press (i.e. the “business as usual” model) in this day and age of seemingly uncaring politicians, babbling, inane, way overpaid “talking heads” on TV, the sad cadre of comedians posing as “real” journalists and reporters (and their “take” on today’s news), writers, pseudo-journalists, bloggers with a chip on their shoulders, ad nauseum, we always tend to appear to be callous to anyone, victim or perpetrator, and just deliver our printed or televised “warning shots” of “reportage” without any damn care in the world! THAT must stop, some way; somehow. We are once again slipping gleefully into another era of “yellow dog” journalism and one that may just (if it hasn’t already) eclipse the one that (unpleasantly) preceded us all back in the old days of our profession.
    And, as usual, all of us ersatz “professionals” (and I DO use that VERY loosely!) stand around doing what we do best — agonizing and pontificating over and about it all and generally doing nothing about the problem(s). We are the epitome of when all is said and done, more is usually said than is ever done. Shame on us all!

  • March 31, 2017 at 2:34 pm

    I don’t think we need to be licensed.
    I do think we need to stop calling people “reporters” who are not reporters.
    You have a talk show? You’re not a reporter, unless it is a NEWS show.
    I think the real problem is, and the comments are supporting this, is calling “everyone who has an opinion” a reporter (yes, you’re using “journalist” but that word should not be used either). Just because someone blogs doesn’t make them a reporter any more than a person who speaks their opinion at a city council meeting makes them a reporter.
    Almost every state has a press association of some sort, and most of those can issue “credentials”, even if only to members. Surely such associations wouldn’t issue (I’m heading into potential sarcasm here) credentials to non-reporters?
    Even if you’re a talk show host that is talking ABOUT news, you’re not a reporter because you’re not REPORTING; you’re talking ABOUT reporting. I’m constantly amazed that people can’t see the difference, but I think it’s because we do not have a term for those who talk about the news instead of reporting the news.


Leave a Reply to Colleen Roach, Ph.D. Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *