The US government does not have nearly as much oversight over our media landscape as the Danish government has over Denmark—nor would increased control here be a popular move. But there is an argument to be made for the government playing a role in carving out spaces for new media experiments and, together with private-sector investors, throwing those experiments some money. The Knight Foundation and its counterparts can’t, and shouldn’t, be the only ones fostering foster innovation in the news industry.
6) Journalists and whistleblowers should have strong laws protecting them. Sweden’s first Freedom of the Press Act is older than the United States, and is widely cited as the world’s first law of its kind. Today, the Principle of Public Access in the Swedish constitution requires that all court records, documents, and communications within the government be available to the public. Government employees are encouraged to provide information to journalists, and punishing them for doing so is prohibited.
What’s more, adds Tom Moring, journalism professor at the Swedish School of Social Science, Swedish shield laws are so strong that if a journalist publishes information from an anonymous source, it is actually against the law for anyone to even ask the journalist to reveal that source. (A CJR colleague learned all the ins and outs when Julian Assange tried and failed to ingratiate himself with Sweden in 2010.) Swedish laws protecting journalists and whistleblowers are perhaps the strictest, but the whole region has a similar strong tradition. “In Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, the idea of the publicity of official documents is holy,” says Moring. “This transparency is a very crucial part of our society.”
U.S. shield law is toothless by comparison. The nonprofit Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press keeps a list of reporters jailed for refusing to reveal confidential sources to prosecutors. Judith Miller probably got the most attention for going to jail for 85 days in 2005, but she wasn’t the first, and she won’t be the last. Also underreported are the fines that courts levy against individual journalists who stay silent. Journalists should not be punished for doing their job. Sweden knows it. American policymakers should learn it, too, and strengthen shield laws for reporters and editors. Perhaps then the US could rise above its current lowly rank of 47 (tied with Argentina and Romania) in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
7) Journalism training, and jobs in journalism, should be much more accessible and inviting. The Danish School of Media and Journalism was established in 1962 as the official vocational school for journalists in Denmark. The curriculum, a four-year bachelor’s degree program, was a collaboration between media organizations and the journalist’s union. It soon became akin to a necessary accreditation program, with requirements in the field—like a medical school, if medical schools were free. Since 1999, the school no longer has a monopoly on journalism education in Denmark; masters’ programs have developed in other universities since. But the school’s legacy has set the standard for journalism training.
The school’s entrance exams were rigorous and wide in scope, and the program only admitted 250 students a year. It was a true meritocracy, in that students were not admitted because of their pedigree (because applications were anonymous, and did not include high school transcripts) nor because of their ability to pay (because the school was free). Kim Minke, director of the Danish Cultural Institute in the UK, describes the school’s history in a chapter of European Journalism Education (2009). “And finally the four-year programme would contain an eighteen-month trainee period in the middle of the programme, in which the students would work as paid interns in various media companies,” Minke writes. “These were the concessions made to the skeptics who feared that the real talent and a true understanding of ordinary people would not be appreciated in a formal educational system.”
One topic that just about every American journalist—employed or not—is sure to have a strong opinion about is the value of a formal journalistic education. It’s everybody’s favorite thing to argue about, after paywalls. But everyone can probably agree that starting out in the field of journalism can be prohibitively expensive. If you’re not paying tens of thousands of dollars a year for grad school to get the training and the access that might come with that degree, you’re paying your own way during an unpaid (or extremely low-paying) internship that increasingly seems to be a prerequisite for a “real” job.