In line with the Pitchfork Culture, since beginning this career and embarking on this journey, I have run into a social phenomenon I’ll call cert shaming. I’ll even go so far as to say it goes both ways. And we’re going to examine this, and then I’ll chime in with why it may not be good to engage in the practice.
First thing we’ll talk about is less common in my view. Shaming or viewing certified reporters as inferior. There’s been a valid and true push for years for people to get certified. It’s come from NCRA in the form of things like the TRAIN initiative to other ideas like realtime for all. Overall, this is good. We all want each other to be at the top of our game. Any interview or correspondence I’ve had with any professional in the field has led to one conclusion, the field needs great reporters. As Doris Wong put it, the field need lions. But a counterculture grew from this. There are a great many reporters in states that do not require any licensure or certification, and from that culture grew people who asked: What does it do for me? More than that, that group can fall into cert shaming, seeing the certified as snobby or entitled without ever getting to know them. If you’re reading along and feel that way, I get it. But if you have no idea what I’m talking about, this counterculture holds one motto: You write better than I do, that doesn’t mean you are better than me.
Then, of course, we have the other end of the spectrum. We have folks out there in our community that get these certifications and then decide that the uncertified are the unfit. There’s no gray area or middle ground, there’s certified or not. It doesn’t matter if you take continuing education courses, write realtime, or are out there making the field shine in your own little way. No certs, no credit, full shame.
Here is the great thing about what I am about to say: You don’t have to believe me. You can go about your business and live with a long and shining career. But here’s where I’m coming from strategically. The next time you feel like someone is inferior as a professional or reporter, examine why. If all it comes down to is whether they passed a test, then I challenge you to re-examine that view. Why? Unity. Teamwork. Commitment to one another. Commitment to this field.
We have all been stuck in a substandard position at one time or another because of somebody. We all have our own idea of what constitutes a good reporter and a bad reporter. If we take that pain and disappointment and use it to tear down the next person, we lose our ability to work together on the issues that matter. On the flip side, if you take that pain and encourage the next person to do better, to reach up and be the best reporter they can be, you’re breaking the cycle and making things a little bit better. In time, I hope we can tackle big questions together. What makes us good beyond the certs? What makes us attractive to lawyers, judges, and clients? Would the NCRA benefit from allowing uncertified people in its membership? How do we balance things so that neither the certified nor uncertified feel disenfranchised? Can we? Have we already?
Whatever your answers, know that there are other professionals out there looking to you for guidance and example, and perhaps the greatest thing you can do for them is lend your perspective firmly but politely. For a quick example, I am among the uncertified, but with every single student I have ever mentored, I have set out the truth I felt most beneficial: You can succeed regardless, and if you go for those certs you give it your all and get them. Shame your fellow reporter, and to our collective shame they may leave our field one weaker. Encourage them to do well, and they will do well.