Who’s a journalist now?

For as long as we humans have been online we have been arguing about how being online changes the nature of publishing and journalism. So these days, when I hear people arguing about who qualifies as a journalist, or whether bloggers are journalists, I usually yawn. I wrote this five years ago (during one of Apple’s previous campaigns against a blogger):

A blogger is someone who uses a certain kind of tool to publish a certain kind of Web site. The label tells us nothing about how the tool is used or what is published. We went through this discussion a decade ago, when people first started asking whether Web sites were journalism. To understand this, just take the question, “Are bloggers journalists?” and reframe it in terms of previous generations of tools. “Are telephone callers journalists?” “Are typewriter users journalists?” “Are mimeograph operators journalists?” Or, most simply, “Are writers journalists?” Well, duh, sometimes! But sometimes not.

When I was invited to the event that’s happening at Stanford Law School on Friday — “Future of Journalism: Unpacking the Rhetoric” — my knee jerked a bit along these lines. But I soon got the sense that this would be a more valuable and less superficial conversation than most of them have been.

So I’ll be there, Friday, along with a whole bunch of people more expert than I am, fielding discussion of the statement: “Everyone is a journalist now.” (Which, in that form, I think is simply, patently untrue, but with a little adjustment — to, say, “Now (almost) anyone can do journalism” — becomes pretty defensible.)

All this, of course, was before the whole affaire Gizmodo, which, as if on cue, has thrust our noses right into this little matter..

I have my own thoughts on the topic. But before I deliver them, I also want to hear from you. Which corners and angles of this discussion are most interesting to you? Should we care about the label “journalist”? If so, how do we distinguish the person in that role? Is it about employment, or accreditation, or what you do, or the size of your audience, or a particular set of ideals? What about shield laws and access to press conferences or White House briefings? Is this argument worth having? What does society gain by having “journalist” be a static role that only a small number of people qualify for? Can society gain something else by opening up the qualifications — and is there a cost?

Come to think of it, there really is plenty to talk about.

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  1. I don’t know if I’m a ‘journalist,’ but I am a reporter. I witness events and publish my recollection of those events on my ‘online newspaper.’ I try my best to gather as many public documents as possible from the various government meetings to reinforce my recollection.

    And I do commentary from time to time.

    I’ll put my reporting skills up against any professional ‘journalist’ in the state of Louisiana. Any of them.


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