Get credentials without getting elite

Media | Access/Network
It’s a strange country where Peggy Noonan, columnist for the Wall Street Journal, peddles anti-elitist populism in the media wars. She suggests that the future of the media belongs to people who reject professionalism in all forms. I think there’s a better way.

First, I would like to say something in capital letters and italics, which is my right to do by any journalistic standards. THE WALL STREET JOURNAL IS ELITE. IT IS WRITTEN BY THE ELITE, THE BEST. IT IS READ BY THE ELITE, THE MANAGEMENT AND FINANCE CLASSES. I actually got the Journal delivered to me by mistake for about three months. I loved it. I felt informed. I felt elite. Until I got turned off by the elitism just dripping in the soft sections, like Marketplace and Weekend Journal. The paper asked whether it was easier to cook food or to buy. When your cooking instructions say, “First, buy a bottle of olive oil for $18.99…” dinner at ’21’ starts looking like a bargain.

Noonan also positions her paper in opposition to the mainstream media– so hated she happily cites the cloying “MSM” acronym. But the Journal has more subscribers than the New York Times. If it’s out of the mainstream, maybe that’s because it’s elite.

As Thomas Frank has written numerous books on, and I have reviewed here, this is one of the great tricks of conservatism in the last twenty-five years, to disassociate themselves from the “elite.” Whether you are conservative or liberal, you have to really wonder whether Noonan is an authentic voice to rage against the elite.

In a recent column gushing praise on blogs, she wrote of reporters: “It has seemed to me the best of them never went to J-school but bumped into journalism along the way.”

Well, hold on a minute. This new trick to frame professionalism in terms of whether someone went to journalism school– while pointing out that it’s irrelevant, anyways. What’s alarming is that liberal bloggers lap up this pandering. If you didn’t go to journalism school, in Noonan’s opinion, you’re an average grub and you have just as much right to write.

But there are other ways of being associated with professional journalists, that come at much cheaper prices.


The Society of Professional Journalists was founded in 1909, and has over 9,000 members nationally. It charges dues of $72 for full-time members, and also welcomes associates who support the mission, at a membership charge of $90 (plus a small amount for chapter membership, $10 in the case of New England). The SPJ also maintains a code of ethics. In the thirty-nine statements in the code, one is conspicuosly missing: “Journalists cannot hold opinions / they must be objective.” For a blogger to say “I don’t believe in journalists because they can’t hold opinions” is misguided.

The Online News Association was founded in 1999 and has over 600 members nationally. It costs $50 to join for professionals or associated. They sponsor, along with USC’s Annenberg School of Communications, the Online Journalism Awards. It would seem that this younger, smaller group is a bit more nimble than its antecedent.

I’ve joined both. As a software engineer, I get paid a little more than most journalists, and I can afford it.

There’s one more guild to consider: the National Writers Union, with 3,500 members nationally. They appear to have stringent requirements for membership: you need to have published a certain amount of material or “if you have written an equal amount of unpublished material and are actively writing and attempting to publish your work.” I met my local Boston chapter at an event today. The officers told me that they’re always interested getting new members, particularly younger members, and also people in the online community who self-publish.

I’d really like someone to make the case that joining a union makes one “elite.” As it is, unions are hardly mainstream anymore.


Despite all the protests to the contrary, there’s still a battle for readers between the traditional press and the blogs. A number of bloggers engage in the dance that they don’t aim to replace traditional journalism. Here’s a way to consider it: Suppose that the writers in your metropolis go on strike. Do you, an online writer/blogger, show solidarity with the professional writers? Or, is this an opportunity to provide an alternative channel?

It’s not an easy answer. The New York Review of Books (an elite publication if there ever was one) was actually founded in 1963 during the publisher’s strike. But for all the bloggers who believe that they play a complementary role to journalists, maybe it’s time for them to put their money where their mouths are. If you really support journalists, pay them some tribute. It’s a lot cheaper than journalism school.