It wasn’t long ago when our image of a journalist was of a Woodward and Bernstein-type who worked the beat. He sleuth-ed out secret information that was vital for public knowledge and reported it to us with the utmost journalistic integrity in a professional print format, probably prepared and slammed home with the help of an otherwise-obsolescent typewriter. All of this while wearing an over-sized trench coat and a fedora with press credentials tucked in. Impressive.
But what makes a journalist today? There may be no clear and easy answer. News in the new media age reaches us faster than ever with a few movements of our hands and fingers – through our phones and computers as reported by blogs, news websites, Tweets and Facebook updates. Our old mind’s eye picture of a journalist looks especially archaic with the advent of these new media avenues that have thus changed our perception of who can report the news and how it’s reported.
Today, there are countless news blogs across the Internet that cover anything and everything, prepared and written by individuals who may or may not have journalism degrees. For the most part, the world of online journalism is a frontier where rules and boundaries may be ignored, if they’re even set in the first place. But that doesn’t change the fact that bloggers who report and write news have the right to call themselves journalists. They are, after all, doing what journalists who work through more traditional mediums do. Think of an artist: when you want to know if he is indeed an artist and how good of an artist he is, what do you ask to see? The art he’s produced or his college art degree? For most people, it’s his art, of course. And his art also doubles as his credentials, much like the journalistic work of an online journalist’s would. The proof is in the product.
However, like the more traditional world of print and broadcast journalism, there are varying degrees of quality and professionalism in the online world of journalism as well. In all avenues of journalism are “facts” that prove untrue, typos to be corrected, and articles that are executed poorly. Anyone can be a journalist, true, but not everyone does it the same, or at the same level. This is not a denigration of journalism, but rather the ascension of the individual and his freedom to be what he wants to be on his own terms in the new media age.
But not everyone feels the same way. A federal judge in Portland, Oregon ruled in December of last year that a self-proclaimed “investigative blogger,” Crystal Cox, was not protected by Oregon’s media shield law for journalists because the medium for her reporting was not traditional and because she had no education in journalism or credentials that tied her to a “recognized news entity.” This resulted in a verdict that has Cox owing 2.5 million dollars for damages due to defamation to a firm she covered in one of her blogs.
The precedent set forth by the ruling further legitimizes newsmakers’ sometimes attempts to squelch bloggers’ media access as journalists. These attempts are attempts to control discourse – who knows what, what is known, and how what is known will be told. Independent news bloggers can be a wild card when it comes to how news information will be disseminated and reported since they are not constricted by as many interested editors and corporate sponsors, and are thusly more troublesome for institutions who wish to control the news reported about them. Most news bloggers simply have an uphill battle to climb before they’re fully embraced as “journalists” by everyone.
Whatever the medium, a journalist is defined as someone in the trade of writing, editing and reporting the news. If that’s you, wear your trench coat and fedora proudly.