The Garden State has a shield law for journalists, meaning the government cannot force reporters or opinion writers to reveal their sources. There is nothing more vigorously defended among journalists than the right to keep secret one’s anonymous sources in service of “the public’s right to know.” The decades-long secret identity of “Deep Throat” in The Washington Post’s Watergate exposés is the standard of that journalistic principle.The media's insistence of marginalizing blogging as any form of journalism is deeply rooted. I first wrote about this topic more than seven years ago in "Ambush journalism," detailing the time I was invited to appear on a Nashville radio and TV talk show and was the ambushee.
But a New Jersey state appellate court last weekruled that a woman named Shellee Hale is not a “real” journalist, but just a blogger, so is not protected by the state’s shield law.
It seems Teddy Bart and Karlen Evins, the hosts, think that I bash the media on [my blog] site. Teddy told me so, but when I asked him to provide a citation, he couldn't. Karlen was very bothered that (heaven forfend!) non-journalists are able to go onto the internet and write whatever they want to with no accountability! Please pass the smelling salts, I might faint.I posted a long discussion of how no one can really define what a journlist is because there are simply no accepted standards of training, employment, certification nor accountability. Some of that post follows; I've found that many of the links I used are now dead so I removed them hence.
Personally, I remember this thing called the First Amendment, which I don't think applies only to journalists. When other people exercise it, it doesn't offend me.
There are at least two pertinent facts here:
Journalism is a job, not a profession. In fact, I have extensive formal journalism training, and I can tell you that there is no particular skill to it that is particularly difficult or unobtainable by average people.
There is no "accountability" of journalists in any meaningful sense. There is no equivalent of a bar exam for journalists. There is no licensing procedure for journalists. There is no minimum education level required, nor any particular special kind of training at all. Fill out an employment application, get hired at minimum wage or better, and presto, you're a journalist. Or just take a pad and pencil, call some folks on the phone and do some interviews, and you're a journalist, too.
Don't throw the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalism at me, because first, no reporter has to join the SPJ unless his employer requires it and second, adherence to the code is entirely voluntary, anyway.
The code is nothing but an agreement by journalists (whatever they actually are) to follow these rules. There is no sanction for not doing so. I presume that the SPJ could revoke your membership in it for failing to follow the code, but you can still be a journalist if you want. Lawyers can be debarred, physicians can be de-licensed, and then neither can practice, but no mandatory sanctions of the like exist for journalists.
Nor should it. The only good answer to free speech with which you don't agree is more free speech. The First Amendment does not privilege "reporters." The First Amendment protects equally everyone's right to publish. News media outlets have no First Amendment rights that you and I or Joe Doaks does not have, nor do they have those rights more urgently.
There is only one real standard of journalistic accountability: the marketplace of ideas. People read or view or listen to sources that they deem reliable and credible (or entertaining, but we were talking about news and commentary). Glenn Reynolds gets 200,000 or so page views per day because people trust his record.
A typical MSM reporter insists that journalists are "accountable" and bloggers are not. But this is untrue. In fact, bloggers are blessedly free from the very real constraint that tends to inhibit traditional media from pursuing stories: commercial pressures. Matt Welch wrote several years ago (link is now dead) that America's newspapers are catering almost exclusively to the well-to-do in search of advertising dollars, skewing their news coverage in order to achieve reader demographics that attract high-dollar advertisers. As the result,
"Daily newspapers have effectively dropped [coverage of] the bottom quintile or perhaps a third of the population," wrote communications professor Robert McChesney of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, in a chapter of the 2002 book Into the Buzzsaw.Where is the accountability here? In the United States, media operations are commercial business ventures and that fact overwhelms almost everything else about them. I personally remember well a Time magazine reporter covering Operation Golden Pheasant in 1988. The reporter asked an 82d Airborne Division Spec. 4 some questions, but the trooper declined to answer. The reporter said he should give the interview. "I represent the American people," the reporter said. The Spec. 4 snorted, "No you represent Time-Life, Inc, a publicly held megabusiness." When even a 20-year-old trooper knows where a reporter's highest loyalty lies, it's time for some honesty from the reportage trade.
The only real legal accountability for journalists are libel laws, but those laws apply to bloggers just as much as traditional media.
The myth that journalism is a distinctive profession
Mediachannel.org asked the question, "What is a journalist?" and answered thus:
Most mainstream journalists don't acknowledge how their own ideologies (or the pressures of their employers) guide their work. Yet they are considered "real journalists" because of their insider status and where they stand in the pecking order of some media combine. However, note that in a world of so many diverse publications, multimedia outlets and Web sites, more and more people are defining themselves as journalists and in some instances even reinventing aspects of journalism, as with the Indy Media Centers. Outsiders have always fought to be recognized and validated. The late I. F. Stone, for one, virtually alone, went after the U.S. government's Vietnam polices with a small newsletter. History now considers him a media hero. A new Indian website is battling corruption by exposing it. "Private Eye," a satirical magazine in London, has long been an outlet for unsourced, anonymous insider dish 'n' dirt on the media business. It's not traditional "balanced" reporting but most journalists read it and love it. There are many more such examples.Is Glenn Reynolds a journalist? I think so, but others may not, and there is no one out there who has the right to say either of us are wrong. Some states have attempted to define what a journalist is by law, but such efforts have very serious problems, not least of which is that the Supreme Court has always held that no citizen enjoys greater First Amendment protections than another. First Amendment protections and rights belong to individuals, not corporations. (See this story, also cited below, which points out, "The First Amendment, said the U.S. Supreme Court in 1972, 'does not relieve a newspaper reporter of the obligation that all citizens have to respond to a grand jury subpoena and answer questions relevant to a criminal investigation.'").
The Vanessa Leggett case is so confounding precisely because there is no accepted social or legal definition of what a journalist is. Philip Meyer, who holds the Knight Chair in Journalism at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, wrote of the Leggett case,
How, for example, could we define membership in the special group without starting down a slippery slope leading first to the licensing of journalists and ultimately to censorship? . . . One of Leggett's contributions could be a definition of a journalist as anyone who declares his or her intent to be one.Bill Hobbs, who was a bona fide journalist by any definition, had lot more to say about this topic. Excerpt:
No media tool allows for more accountability and more-rapid correcting of error than weblogs. None. And blog articles - which, incidentally, tend to be commentary rather than straight news - are often better referenced than anything you'll read in your local daily. Bloggers won't just tell you what they think about something - they'll provide you links to the relevant source materials, and even links to other blogs that take a different point of view. Rev. Sensing quotes the SPJ "Code of Ethics" in its entirety - and links to it. What are the chances he would deliberately misquote it? Zero. He linked to it - you can read it for yourself. The Internet makes it easy to fact-check bloggers - which creates more pressure on bloggers to get their facts right.Related: Whom does the First Amendment serve?
Blogs fill oldline journalism with dread
Tennessean columnist Tim Chavez wrote in 2004 that, "My industry is one of the few businesses in which the customer is always wrong."