Wick Communications

Who is a journalist?

In journalism on 9 Feb 2012 at 4:23 pm

Most of you reading this are journalists. I know that because I see the subscription list. Most of you are paid to work for bona fide news organizations. You are employed to find the truth and write it. That makes you a journalist, by definition.

But what do you call a mom in Poughkepsie who writes product reviews on a blog no one reads? How about an engineer who moonlights with a podcast about the local NFL football team? Is the guy who made himself a press pass while camped out with Occupiers a journalist? Heck, does it even matter who is called a journalist?

These questions have taken on some urgency in the wake of a court’s decision to fine an Oregon blogger $2.5 million for defaming a law firm. The court ruled she is not afforded legal protections the state gives to those it considers journalists. Feel free to read all those torrid details, but I think they are much less important than the existential question of whether we should differentiate ourselves from “them.”

I have never been one to claim special privilege by virtue of my job or title as a journalist. I think the First Amendment applies to all Americans, whether they work for the New Yorker or are simply New Yorkers. Any access granted by my press pass (and, frankly, I can’t remember the last time I brandished it at some news scene) is merely a matter of convenience for some event sponsor. Obviously, the NFL can’t let everyone into the Super Bowl, so it picks and chooses who can bring it the most value. The photo above is of a pile of press passes I’ve been given through the years. I bet I have 50 of them. …

I always argued against accepting official press credentials from government agencies, whenever possible, on the “we don’t need no stinking badges” theory. I think that once you accept the terms by which, say, the Minnesota State Patrol, sets for their credentials, you have abdicated some of your rights as an American citizen. If the government can giveth, you better bet it can taketh away.

Further, I think we damage our credibility when we attempt to separate ourselves from readers.

Now, between me and you and everyone else on the Internet, do I think there is a difference between the journalism we create and that practiced by the vast majority of bloggers? Absolutely. Much of the blather on the Internet (like, for instance, The Kicker) is opinion and speculation that riffs off some journalist’s work. And I do think there is something special about the people who do this for a living. I said so here. I just don’t think it makes sense to argue for ownership of a label.

What do you think?



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