Who is a journalist?

Writer and comedian John Knefel reaches for his glasses as police pull him away during an Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City yesterday. This really great photo was taken by Jessica Lehrman in the lobby of Winter Garden, a building owned by Brookfield Property, the same company that owns Zuccotti Park. To get a different view on the same scene, check out a video that someone else was filming at the same time. You can see Knefel falling down around 6:30.

The photo and video bring up something interesting. Knefel is a writer and comedian, one of the many people documenting OWS from the inside while trying to navigate the very grey boundaries of journalist and participant in the age of Internet journalism. Personally, I think this conflict is pretty interesting. If I can get all "journalism ethics class" for a minute here, I think OWS is drawing attention to the already existing need for new definitions of who constitutes "media" and who doesn't. Why is this more confusing than you might thing? Let me use Knefel as an example.

Knefel doesn't work for a major media outlet. But he's also not just some random bystander. He's got a political podcast with new episodes three times a week. Do we only call someone a journalist if they have enough page views? Do they have to have a journalism degree? What's the line?

Knefel is a biased source of information. But so are a lot of mainstream commentators. We'd call someone from Fox News a journalist. We'd call someone from Reason magazine a journalist. We'd call somebody from Mother Jones a journalist. Having a clear political angle to your coverage doesn't make you not a journalist. Except when it does. So what are the actual criteria?

Knefel didn't have a press pass. But, as Xeni has pointed out, the press pass system in New York is incredibly convoluted and contradictory. So what if you can't get one? Does that mean you aren't a journalist? This is particularly problematic given the fact that the rules seem to be set up to favor long-standing publications with lots of resources that mostly just cover New York City. How does that fit into a globalized world? Why punish media entrepreneurship?

We live in an age where publishing is easy and the tools to do it are available to a much wider swatch of people. But our standards and rules for who gets protection as a member of the press are based on a paradigm where publishing wasn't easy and only a limited number of people could do it. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that not everybody who uses the Internet is a journalist, because being a journalist comes with responsibilities not just protections. I'm pretty sure my Dad doesn't want to hold his Facebook to the same standard that I use when writing here.

I don't know the answer to these questions. But I know we need to have this conversation. Occupy Wall Street just shows us what can happen when we keep applying old rules to a new world.


  1. The media has always lived under the credo “The people have a right to know.” Why don’t the people have a right to be considered journalists? Should not a person with a camera who finds themselves in a position to record something valuable have the right to document via photographs an important event without interference?

  2. Being a journalist makes you no less a citizen than being a cop does.

    The police have the authority of arrest BECAUSE people have a right to a free press, and that means everyone who writes, journals. And we can all do that. As much as we want. Even cops can also be journalists. It’s MAGIC, apparently.

  3. Why can’t everyone be entitled to the freedom that journalists have? Is it not in the public interest to have as many people gathering information about a story as possible? Anyone who’s ever read a published article about themselves knows how painfully inaccurate traditional journalism can be. New media allows for every story to come from people who actually experience the event directly.

  4. I don’t know why he’s even bothering with the glasses. It’s not like he’ll be able to see anything anyway after the tear gas, pepper spray and blinding lasers.

    1. journalist -nə-list n (1693) : a rube who spent a bunch of money on classes only to come out of them still a baby, but a proud baby

      1. I believe the way the Police behave should be identical if you’re an journalist, or an anarchist. The constitution says freedom of the press, not freedom of the press corps as separate from the masses.

      2. @boingboing-7160c7db52df96e5fe196a6c9ce73f83:disqus  is it your position that only those who participated in approved coursework are to be considered journalists?
        Is the right to operate as a journalist something only an accredited college can bestow?
        I think Jefferson has something interesting to say on the matter
         “our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”
        And I agree. Once you try to limit these freedoms or impose restriction liberty is lost.

        1. No. My position is that the approved coursework happens to teach you really valuable things about your rights and responsibilities as a public communicator. At the very least, you come away from it asking yourself questions and considering issues you might not otherwise notice … to your own detriment. 

          In an age where everybody can do, to a certain extent, what journalists do, maybe it makes a lot of sense to teach these valuable lessons to everybody. To my mind, that’s not gatekeeping at all. That would be helping people protect themselves as public communicators and do a better job of being public communicators. 

          I don’t think you need a college degree to be a journalist. Frankly, the idea that you go to college to be a journalist is pretty new. This used to be a trade that you learned on the job. Journalism school is just a way of getting a lot of the really valuable stuff from that training faster. I don’t think journalism school is bad. I don’t think it’s necessary either. 

          But I do tend to think that learning some of the stuff we learn in journalism school IS necessary. Particularly because this is stuff that is, to put it in a sociology context, very much about learning to see our own privilege as public voices and make sure we don’t abuse that privilege. However you learn it, I don’t care. But I tend to think that you ought to learn it if you’re going to call yourself a journalist. 

          1. How about the history of the broadsheet and independent critics of the government…bloggers are closer to what the protections in the Constitution were aimed at…critics of the Government no matter how small… we to have a VOICE.
             There are terrible “journalist” who have all the “training” and none of the ethics- who are themselves targeting OWS for slimming innuendo day in day out on the “news”. It seems to me that in many cases none of that training made an impression. Especially the ethics part.

            Going back to defending independent journalists who are getting roughed up by the police, pointing your investigative rigor towards that is probably better time spent.

    2. Plenty of FOX news droids probably sat through those classes as well, for all the good that “education” did them, us, or our society.

    3. So you mean that when I worked as a reporter for a daily newspaper I was NOT a journalist, because I had not gone to a journalism school and attended those media law and ethics classes? Something in your head is screwed up here.

    4. J School is a pretty recent development. In fact, journalism schools became ascendant shortly before corporate ownership began its destruction of journalism as an honorable profession.

  5. A journalist is “a salaried employee of a major news corporation with a consistent record of reporting that reflects the consensus view of events established by the government and large corporations”. No others need apply.

    Can’t believe I still have to explain this to you guys. Sheesh.

    1. Did the first amendment say journalist or press? Besides, your definition of journalist is incomplete. Here is the full current definition of journalist as enumerated by the Shield law (and of course this definition is only concerning protection and does not speak to who can act as the press)
      (iii) obtains the information sought while working as a salaried employee of, or independent contractor for, an entity—

      (I) that disseminates information by print, broadcast, cable, satellite, mechanical, photographic, electronic, or other means; and

      (II) that—

      (aa) publishes a newspaper, book, magazine, or other periodical;

      (bb) operates a radio or television broadcast station, network, cable system, or satellite carrier, or a channel or programming service for any such station, network, system, or carrier;

      (cc) operates a programming service; or

      (dd) operates a news agency or wire service;

      1. That doesn’t seem to cover freelance journalism (as in, just nosing around to write a story that no one’s bought yet). 
        Neither does it cover “citizen journalists” or bloggers.

        French law on the subject is interesting: all you have to do to get a press pass is to prove that you draw most of your revenues from news-related activites (press photography works too) and/or spend more than 50% of your professional time at it. Don’t know if having a blog and living on ad money (or selling T-shirts, or soliciting donations) works, though. It’s delivered by an independant cadre of people elected by their peers.

        1. @boingboing-bc05782622bc75384fc4730069494b17:disqus I agree. The shield law is badly done. This is why I stick with press since journalist tends to be narrowly defined.

        2. the system is unlikely to pay it’s critics. – the Constitution however clearly protects them…. read up on who and what “the press” was at the time of the Founders… It was not a corporate affair.

  6. Speaking as a journalist working for a mainstream magazine (I even have a journalism degree!), I think it’s very important that anyone be able to call herself a journalist, with no credentials whatsoever. Claiming the title “journalist” is a tremendously useful mechanism for claiming rights and access that all citizens should have but are routinely denied. We should be very wary of disabling that mechanism with more barriers than there are already.

    1. The cynic in me suspects that it’s more likely that random people claiming to be journalists is more likely to end with journalists losing the extra leeway they get than help everyone exercise their rights.

      1. Compare that to the risks involved in leaving the identification of “real” journalists in the hands of those who benefit from controlling access to information.

        1. When the Constition was written broadsheet hustlers – indy writers WERE the press. The “mainstream” press is now corporate owned. The broadsheet hustlers are bloggers, vloggers and indy web papers.

          We don’t need no stinking press pass. We have the Constitution of the United States which was meant to protect independent critics of government …no matter how small their print run.

  7. S. District Judge Marco A. Hernandez, Obsidian Finance Group v. Cox:
    Defendant fails to bring forth any evidence suggestive of her status as a journalist. For example, there is no evidence of (1) any education in journalism; (2) any credentials or proof of any affiliation with any recognized news entity; (3) proof of adherence to journalistic standards such as editing, fact-checking, or disclosures of conflicts of interest; (4) keeping notes of conversations and interviews conducted; (5) mutual understanding or agreement of confidentiality between the defendant and his/her sources; (6) creation of an independent product rather than assembling writings and postings of others; or (7) contacting “the other side” to get both sides of a story. Without evidence of this nature, defendant is not “media.”

    1. (3) proof of adherence to journalistic standards such as editing, fact-checking, or disclosures of conflicts of interest;

      hahahaha hsfhhhahh hhhhhahhh
      Turns out a lot of people we thought were “journalists” aren’t.

      1. That was a list of attributes which might constitute ‘media’.  The point wasn’t that all were required to be considered ‘media’, rather because none of them were exhibited the person was not considered ‘media’.

    2. That’s actually not a bad start for a definition. Trouble is, it would require judicial (or at least strong bureaucratic) oversight, and who can we trust to deliver it in a reasonable and even-handed way ?

  8. “At the same time, we have to acknowledge that not everybody who uses the Internet is a journalist, because being a journalist comes with responsibilities not just protections.” Disagree. 

    No gatekeepers, no culture, no “right” way to do journalism. It’d be nice if there was an objective human being, but there’s not. And until we can figure out a way to get FOX to admit that what they get up to isn’t “journalism” then we need to keep it wide-open.

    The only qualification necessary to be a journalist is to say you are one.

  9. @ Angusm: I love the “my path is the only path” mentality displayed here. Just think, you could start a secondary accreditation for LPJ’s (Licensed Professional Journalists) and then never be bothered by someone who learned to do something in some other way than you did.

  10. I don’t understand why anyone thinks we need different levels of citizens. Look how well that’s working for us in the rich/poor category. 

    It’s not a question of who’s a journalist; it’s a question of why are the police permitted to do many of the things they do. “Get out of jail free” cards doesn’t do it for me when there was no reason to be jailed in the first place.

  11. One thing worth noting, if we actually enforced the official rules, there would be a lot of people we call “journalists” who wouldn’t be, and a lot of people who we don’t call “journalists” who would be. 

  12. Interesting…I am no expert, because IANAJ.

    Unless I say I am…?  So…in this example the question is raised because this person did not have a press pass.  In the world where we all are our very own journalist: Everybody gets a pass if they want it?

    That’s like going to the backstage door when your most favorite group is performing and demanding access because you know all the songs.  “It’s too crowded back here already” says the laconic security guard…

    “But I’m A Journalist!!” you reply…and get in.

    1. This is one of the key points about why the definition has been restricted. Access to some situations (think the major party conventions, overseas wars, or the White House, for instance) is a limited commodity in terms of space. More open-ended situations on our cities or countryside seem like a different situation to me.

      1. It really doesn’t matter anyway. Since they’re just picking the people who’ll make them look good, they’ll be picking all of the same people, even if every person in the world is considered a journalist. Bootlickers with good grammar just happen already to be in the employ of big media corps, as they float to the top naturally.

  13. Speaking as another person with a journalism degree, I think the issue here is the distinction between participant and observer. 

    Consider an embedded journalist in a war zone. They tend to be hands off, not because of any real law, but because both sides acknowledge and the journalist makes the commitment by wearing their credentials and badges to not participate in combat. They are an observer and they are also acknowledging the risks.

    The “Journalists” who are repeatedly running into problems with police in the OWS movement aren’t doing enough to separate themselves from the actions of the movement and are walking the fine line between participant and observer and are thus getting caught up.

    The whole concept that everyone is a journalist and everyone should have access is a very idealistic and, frankly, false view of the profession. Even reporting on small town City Council, I had to pay my dues and make appointment after appointment until the secretary recognized me and I could actually get some proper interviews. The Journalists who get access to major events, or crime scenes, or don’t get picked up when the police are clearing out the OWS protesters are likely the ones that have a history covering the police, or similar events and are being respected for their reputation not because they are waving their credentials.

    1. The “Journalists” who are repeatedly running into problems with police in the OWS movement aren’t doing enough to separate themselves from the actions of the movement and are walking the fine line between participant and observer and are thus getting caught up.

      See, this assumes that the OWS movement were doing something that warranted police action in the first place.  If they’re just standing there then there’s no obvious difference between a journalist and a participant — and that’s exactly the point.  The situation isn’t one in which bright lines are drawn between observers and participants because participants and observers are doing the exact same things: watching and listening.

      The whole concept that everyone is a journalist and everyone should have access is a very idealistic and, frankly, false view of the profession. Even reporting on small town City Council, I had to pay my dues and make appointment after appointment until the secretary recognized me and I could actually get some proper interviews.

      A scoop is a scoop.  If you need to pay some dues to get a scoop, well that’s par for the course.  But if a good story lands in your lap what do you do?  Write the story and then put it in the cooler while you go “pay your dues” retroactively?  Throw it in the garbage because you don’t deserve to write up such a great story on account of your unpaid “dues”?  Of course not, you write it up, j school diploma and worn shoe leather be damned. 

    2. Wrong. Journalists (including those anointed with official press passes) are “running into problems” because police are failing to differentiate between observing and participating. Here’s a video of New York Times photographer Robert Stolarik attempting to cover the D12 action in NYC and nearly getting arrested. Incident starts around 2:00.

  14. “Swatch” of people? Swath, surely.

    Regardless. The question raised in the article is worth talking about, but it’s the image that punches me in the gut every time I scroll up and see it. Maybe it’s the whole glasses thing being 4-eyed myself, or the jackboots, or…whatever.

    But it breaks me. Are we voting for iconic images of the year? Because that’s mine.

  15. The point that everyone seems to be missing:

    Who will they come for next? You? The person next to you?

    Considering the arrest policies and violence used against OWS, the gutting of the Fourth Amendment (search and seizure), the attempts to bypass the Posse Comitatus Act, do away with Habea Corpus, SOPA, and PROTECT-IP, you really need to consider what is happening in the US.

    “As nightfall does not come all at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air — however slight — lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.”
    The Douglas Letters : Selections from the Private Papers of Justice William O. Douglas (1987), edited by Melvin I. Urofsky and Philip E. Urofsky, p. 16

    Is this part of that twilight that Justice Douglas spoke of? I think it’s getting pretty fucking dark outside.

    People, it’s time to start misbehaven.

  16. Having special police behavior in association with someone with a “PRESS” card jammed in their fedora once made a modicum of sense.  No longer.  Now police must treat everyone the same; camera in hand or not.  Ideally this would result in everyone receiving careful consideration of their first amendment rights – but in practice (i fear) it will mean that no one will …equally.

    Next up:  can i officially certify others as a certified certifier? for oh, i dunno … network programmer?  journalist? psychologist?  holistic pet dietician? “stand back! i’m a certified sheet-metal worker!”

  17. “We keep applying old rules to a new world”. Fantastic line. That is the way history works, has always worked, and will always work. 
    Same with journalism. 

    I’ve been a journalist since 1979. Rules and ID don’t matter. Getting a good story and telling it well do. 

    If they’re asking for your professional qualifications they’ve already got something to hide. Keep pushing…

  18. I keep thinking “what would Ben Franklin have to say about this”. Attempting to silence antagonistic press (think Stamp Act) is one of the things that gave birth to the U.S. Make no mistake, as far as the powers that be are concerned this is dangerous territory we’re treading on. And it’s territory that MUST be held if we’re to retain any semblance of freedom.

  19. I like the idea that anyone can be a journalist, but I also like the idea of one or more respectable non-government bodies offering some kind of credentialing/auditing service indicating which journalists meet ethical standards for accuracy and objectivity. Too many factually incorrect or deliberately misleading reports and you’re out. You wouldn’t need their blessing to practice journalism, but having it would help people decide which sources were more likely to provide good reporting. Thoughts?

    1. I don’t like the idea of institutionalizing something like journalistic reputation.  Institutionalizing it seems like just another vector for corruption to me.  Vigorous debate on the open internet and in the culture at large seems to me like the best way to keep everybody honest.  It’s not a particularly good way but that doesn’t mean it isn’t the best.

      1. I understand the potential drawbacks but one problem with the status quo is that the vast majority of people acting as journalists have no widespread reputation at all. I know how much (or how little) weight to give to things I hear from Maggie Koerth-Baker or Bill O’Reilly because I’m familiar with their other work, but I don’t necessarily have the tools to weigh information I get from a news anchor or blogger I’ve never heard of. Something like a Better Business Bureau for journalism or Snopes-ish rating body might help.

        1. I have long thought that there is some good and some bad to an idea like this. I can talk myself into it or out of it, depending on the day. You both basically sum up my position pretty well. 

          1. See, that is just the kind of nuanced reaction that demonstrates why you’re just not cut out for journalism.

  20. This is definitely a conversation that needs to seriously begin. And not just for figuring out what rights non-established journalists have with skirmishes with the police. The same established New York City-based media resources, including The New York Times, The New York Post and The Daily News repeatedly take stories written by local bloggers, like Miss Heather’s New York Shitty, Brownstoner and many others and call it their own article by simply saying “As reported by” somewhere in their article. By not recognizing hard-working fact finders without real press passes, big media plagiarizes stories from blogs every day while simultaneously discrediting their very existence. Established journalists scoff at hard-working bloggers, even though the established ones have their very content filtered by the needs of advertisers and corporations. Not only do bloggers have our best interest in mind, but they are literally getting robbed of content, credit, payment and individual rights.

  21. What is it about the word “journalist” that makes a Jeff Jarvis or someone with a blog and a videocam want to be recognized as such? If it’s to gain access to difficult places, or avoid complications with authority, I get that. If it’s because the word “journalist” engenders respect then I’d have to say that’s because journalism is an admirable profession. The shoulders you stand on and all that. Nevertheless, I think it’s more than just having the same tools: a videocam and some outlet to ‘broadcast’ it.

  22. Some of the most important “journalism” of this year was by tech-savvy citizens livestreaming, twittering, camera-phoning. When the news agencies completely failed us, it was left to the people on the streets and their humble vimeos and youtubes to offer an objective view of events. Let’s not forget: there are few journalism degrees in oppressed dictatorships (I’m not referring to the United States, not yet). So naturally, everyone has the potential to show us the truth hidden by conglomerate or state agenda.

    “We’d call someone from Fox News a journalist.” No we wouldn’t. Not ever.

  23. [edit: in reply to DMStone]
    Not to belittle your journalism degree, but you pretty clearly have internalized the big media mentality with the prominent use of “embed” and “access”.  An embedded journalist is by definition one sided (which doesn’t negate the fact that they are journalists).  Embedding is a recent phenomenon (at least as it’s being done in the US) and entails giving up substantial story control and submitting to censorship, both institional and self generated, in order to maintain the embedded status. I still recall reading Judy’s articles and getting viscerally sick at the amount of obvious bullshit that was being front-paged at the NYT.

    Beyond that, why are embedding rules/practices pertinent in coverage of peaceful domestic political movements?  

    You talk about access and covering small town city councils.  As I think you would agree, just because you claim to be a journalist doesn’t mean anyone needs to give you an interview, but what does that have to do with NYPD targeting “non-standard” journalists for harassment and arrest? Particularly when NYT and other major orgs aren’t there?  Or setting up pool reporting for domestic police work focused on non-violent protest?  This isn’t a question of access, this is a question of deciding what is important enough to be called news and knowing enough to know when and where the news is going to happen. 

    That economics and professional status are proferred as primary determinants of “journalism” represents a big problem.  It leads to a certain type of news being delivered because that is what can make money. Further, undesired news has a way of getting quashed *because* it threatens the ongoing nature of these professional relationships, in which case the press has negative news value. In any case, the first amendment doesn’t protect a “profitable” press.

    And on that note, why is so much attention paid to press freedom portion of the 1st amendment and almost no attention paid to the pretty clear prohibition on abridgement of peaceful assembly?  I still don’t understand how clear language like that ends up being subjected to time, place and manner restrictions.

  24. Having participated in rallies myself, I found it shocking that most mainstream media sources were rarely reporting the whole story. I’ve been glued to John’s twitter feed since the OWS movement began because he is the best kind of journalist- an honest one.

  25. Much of the criticism in the whole OWS/press discussion tends to get thrust on the cops, but it’s important to note that censorship cuts both ways. For instance, here in LA, I remember sitting in on a breakout session discussing tactics for the raid. The minute someone brought up a camera, immediately the bandanas went over people’s faces and the photographer was deluged by Occupiers attempting to shut him down. Flash forward three nights later, and the same Occupiers cried foul when KTLA shut down their broadcast of the cops gathering outside of Dodger Stadium for their pre-raid confab, apparently by the request of the LAPD.

    I agree with you, Maggie: journalists have responsibilities as well as protections to consider. And as a professional (although soft) journalist, it distresses me to see how blinded people are as to their own insistence that journalists must skew to their political biases in order to gain legitimacy. There is no doubt in my mind that the LAPD and other political authorities can use access as leverage against honest, unfettered coverage. Yet the emergence of ideological echo chambers in new media is also of great concern. OWS can very easily become the very thing it despises if it becomes too convinced of its own righteousness and hypnotized by its own hype. That, to me, is the dark side of the citizen journalism question: to what degree are we just churning out self-justifying propaganda and choking out dissenting voices within our own ranks?

    1. This is something I worry about a lot, too, Justin. It certainly doesn’t invalidate the idea of citizen journalism. Which I think is valuable. But we can’t go around pretending that citizen journalists innately have better coverage or that they aren’t out to manipulate, any more than we can assume those things about professional journalists. 

      Good journalism is good journalism. Bad journalism is bad journalism. And both happen at all levels of the spectrum. 

    1. Because it’s the wrong question. If Grandma runs out with her Kodak Instamatic and takes a picture of a cop beating someone for no reason, nobody’s claiming that she’s a journalist. But if she publishes it, she’s still acting as an agent of the free press in its Constitutional sense.

  26. Random bystanders should not be arrested either. Nor should peaceful participants in demonstrations. We are watching the criminalization of protected free speech and assembly, apparently only when it is directed at the wealth and power of the governing elite. Tea partiers can go to political events strapped with guns and threatening violence aganst elected politicians but peaceful demonstrators can’t sing and dance if they oppose Wall Street excess? This is really nuts.

  27. I’m struggling this this issue right now. I see the desire for the definition of  journalist to be expanded.  For me this quote is essential;

    “At the same time, we have to acknowledge that not everybody who uses the Internet is a journalist, because being a journalist comes with responsibilities not just protections. I’m pretty sure my Dad doesn’t want to hold his Facebook to the same standard that I use when writing here. ”

    What if there is someone who has all the protections but doesn’t believe in the responsibilities?  We joke about Fox News as not “journalists”  and not really “the press” but what steps would you be willing to take to actively strip them of that title? For some people the way to fight Fox is to expand the defination of journalism so that other voices can be heard. But there are very few efforts to stop people and corporations from calling themselves journalists when they aren’t acting as journalists, but as a lobbying entity,  an activist group or a PR firm. (When Fox set up and promoted the Tea Party they still got to cover the event as “the press” even when they were actually the producer of many of the events. Imagine if there was a Tea Party that the police had to take down, would Fox, the promoter of the event be on the side of the Cops or the Tea Partiers?)

    And I’m not talking about stripping them of their “press” and journalist benefits for their right wing views, I’m  specifically talking about what to do when they are not actually being responsible journalists. Why should they get the benefits of “the press” when they willfully repeat lies, don’t run corrections, reward (instead of fire) people for getting the story incorrect in favor of their side?  Why are they still called journalists when they seek out and run information that is incorrect even after it has been confirmed incorrect? Why do they still get to be called “the press” when they seek out to destroy a person or group without even the fig leaf of “the other side said…”?
    What if they used illegal means to obtain information for their stories, like hacking into phones?

    Imagine that someone used the moniker of “journalist” and “the press” to simply push an agenda? They can get away with it because they know there are no consequences for not being a responsible journalist.  If I’m a CIA agent and work for a paper to push an agenda of overthrowing the government in a South American country, am I also a journalist? Let’s ask Piper Perabo!

    What do you do about an employee of a corporation who decides to go after an person or organization  using their “journalism” moniker?
    Let’s say that this person doesn’t accurately give the facts, doesn’t run the info from “the other side” and their intent is not to get to the truth but to the “truth” as they believe which supports their agenda (and the agenda of many of their readers/viewers/listeners.)

    You would more accurately describe these people as lobbyists, PR people or activists. But they call themselves journalists, they also have deep pocket lawyers and marketing people who call them journalists.  

    If you don’t want to be responsible because it gets in the way of your agenda, all you have to do is call yourself a journalist and use  a definition that is very broad. Next get your  marketing team to have a slogan like “Fair and Balanced” to help define your corporation. Finally get a legal team that will protect you from any defamation cases as if you were a reporter from the New York Times  looking for truth. When you have all this it means you you have amazing power with little or no check on your agenda. Any time someone challenges you, you bring up all your first amendment rights, your “journalist” credentials and point to broad definitions of what you do. If  someone still thinks they have a case, they have to run the gauntlet of “actual malice” as in New York Times vs. Sullivan.  

    One of the brilliant moves of Roger Allies was changing the name of GOP-TV to Fox News and using the slogan of “Fair and Balanced”.  The original name of Fox tells you a lot (as does the 300+ page document that Ailes wrote to outline his plan for this network which he suggested for Nixon’s White House.)

    Since there are protections of “the press” written into the constitution, anytime they are challenged they can hide behind the constitution and wave their slogan.  This is so much better than the protections that are offered to non-journalists.

    If I believed in real journalism I might work to include citizen journalists in my definition, but I would also work to kick entities out of the definition when they aren’t acting responsible.  I would not call them journalists, I would not call their corporations “the press”. I would call them activists, lobbyists or PR people.

    And when it comes time for them to prove they are journalists, vs. lobbyiest and activists I would not rush to their defense like they are some guy with a camera at a protest,  I would rush to the defense of actual journalists and journalism, which is what is under attack.

    “You are not acting as a responsible press entity or  journalist, you don’t get the benefits that we give to responsible press entities and journalists.”

    1. This is also something that bothers me, Spocko. 

      I am equally concerned about the professionals who want the privileges and not the responsibilities. And I think this is part of what makes this such a grey issue. Because it’s really about who you can trust. And there’s no clear way of figuring that out without following an individual’s coverage (and checking up on them) over a long period of time. Which most of us don’t have time to do. 

      Maybe there never was a golden age where that job of figuring out who to trust was easier. But I feel like it used to SEEM easier, before intentionally biased infotainment and before the Internet. One is bad, the other is generally good. They both muddy the water like crazy. 

      1. Thanks for replying Maggie.  I actually have a couple of specific cases I’m thinking about. One is James O’Keefe and Andrew Breitbart, whose combined intentional acts of activism were given the “they are journalists because they say they are” benefit of the doubt. Because it was given to them,  good people lost their jobs and an organization was destroyed.   What recourse do the people have when non-journalists like them get the benefits of journalists?

        Recently I have found a Fox employee doing the same thing to an organization that had ties to ACORN. If Fox wasn’t part of  “the media or the press” their actions could be seen for what they are, hit pieces by the media arm of the republican party against an organization that they feel can hurt Republicans. 

        For me to expose them can be seen as partisian sour grapes.   What is needed is for actual journalists to call them out, but it’s hard to get media watchers like “On the Media”  to call out Fox for non-journalism. The more likely scenario is for them to rush to the aid of Fox.  Like some of the commenters above, many assume everyone knows Fox isn’t really a provider of journalism and don’t attempt to do anything about it. . I think that is a mistake.

        Personally I’m looking at ways that these non-journalist acts of destruction can be stopped, or barring that, to arrange for them to have consequences.

  28. These are important and challenging questions that I have been grappling with as I have been monitoring journalist arrests at OWS events for the past almost three months. (That list is here: http://storify.com/jcstearns/tracking-journalist-arrests-during-the-occupy-prot ). I outline some of my judgement calls in this post here ( http://stearns.wordpress.com/2011/11/21/trust-and-verify-how-i-curate-my-list-of-journalist-arrests/ ), which explains how I fact check content from social media and confirm journalist arrests. 

    For my purposes, and given the crazy broken credentialing system in most cities, I decided early on that I wasn’t going to quibble about who is a journalist, and who isn’t. My goal was to account for anyone who was clearly committing acts of journalism when they were arrested. However, I also recognize that to hold police and city officials accountable for these arrests, those being arrested had to identify as journalists publicly – either with some form of credentials or verbally.

    I am pretty swayed by Judge Kermit Lipez, when he ruled that videotaping police in public property was a protected act. In his decision he wrote:

    “[C]hanges in technology and society have made the lines between private citizen and journalist exceedingly difficult to draw. The proliferation of electronic devices with video-recording capability means that many of our images of current events come from bystanders [and] news stories are now just as likely to be broken by a blogger at her computer as a reporter at a major newspaper. Such developments make clear why the news-gathering protections of the First Amendment cannot turn on professional credentials or status.”

    (Thanks to Mathew Ingram at Giga Om who first pointed this quote out to me)

    1. Please don’t use URL shorteners and please don’t enclose URLs in parentheses. You hurt the internet’s feelings.

  29. I suspect that the key meaning of “are you a journalist” from the law enforcement perspective is “is there some organization that is taking responsibility for your conduct, and that can be punished if you misbehave?”.    An organization doesn’t need to be arrested because you know where to find them later.  An individual, even one calling themselves a journalist, could disappear after claiming journalistic privilege, which frees them from any constraints on their actions.

    I am staying neutral on what actions by individuals are appropriate; simply arguing that a key issue here is accountability.

  30. Why do journalists get special treatment as compared to regular people? I think it’s because journalists used to be neutral observers, there to report the actual, factual events. Even if they were opinionated, they could once be trusted not to lie or distort the facts (too much). In a sense, their protection wasn’t just a legal one, but also a reputation of honesty and integrity: as a government, by arresting or hindering a journalist you demonstrated to the public that you had something to hide.

    That reputation has been shattered. Perhaps because it was never true. For the first cracks journalists have only themselves to blame. Commercialisation, declining circulation rates, the advent of the internet and indeed citizen journalism did the rest.

    There are very few real journalists left, in the sense of (imperfect) objective observers. Certainly, a leftist comedian with a podcast doesn’t qualify. And sure, neither does a Fox news reporter. But that’s exactly the problem with Fox. You and I may not believe they do neutral and objective reporting. But their AUDIENCE does. So Fox can still envoke that “what do you have to hide / the people have a right to know” outrage amongst their audience which may cause damage to whoever hinders Fox in their ‘reporting’.

    I don’t think John Knefel’s arrest packs that same punch. I think that’s why he got arrested. And I think that’s why he and the coutless other semi-citizen-journalists out there will never enjoy the protection of someone with access to a mass audience. And perhaps that’s fair. Perhaps, in order to be considered a journalist, you need an audience that significantly exceeds an average number of Facebook friends. And perhaps, in order to get there, you can try reporting the facts as honestly and objectively as you can.

    If only because the competition seems to be leaving that niche wide open.

    1. I think it’s because journalists used to be neutral observers…

      Fantasy. You could start by googling ‘Hearst’.

    2. “coutless other semi-citizen-journalists out there ”

      with our constantly increasing level of technology and decline in formerly-inalienable rights, one day soon we’ll all be semi-citizen journalists.

  31. In the same way as copyright was easy when copying involved big bulky mechanical machines, journalists where easy to separate out as they had to be employed by owners of said big bulky mechanical machines. As such, providing someone with press freedoms was easy, as there was few of them to keep track off. But now anyone with a computer and time to write and/or talk, can be a journalist of equal or higher readership to a old school newspaper. Suddenly the number of journalists has exploded.

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