Chuck Tanowitz takes on the noble task of defining just WHO is a journalist - or who a journalist is -- or maybe it's whom. Or really, maybe it's WHAT. All of which is made more difficult, he points out, by legal differences, even among states...
...How does New York define a journalist?
A "professional journalist" is...one who, for gain or livelihood, is engaged in gathering, preparing, collecting, writing, editing, filming, taping or photographing of news intended for a newspaper, magazine, news agency, press association or wire service or other professional medium or agency which has as one of its regular functions the processing and researching of news intended for dissemination to the public; such person shall be someone performing said function either as a regular employee or as one otherwise professionally affiliated for gain or livelihood with such medium of communication.
There are a number of interesting qualifiers here. My favorite is as someone who provides information "for gain or livelihood..." in other words, you have to make money doing this. How many bloggers out there make nothing for their work but do it for the love of writing or finding things out? What if one of these finds themselves with a “source” who provides some sensitive information? Could this person duck behind the shield?
Chuck is right to look closely at the qualifiers. In the legal arena--which this debate seems destined for--lawyers will have a blast arguing. And whether you take the angle of who's a source and who's shielded, or who's writing and who's funding them, it really comes down to truth and facts.
But truth and facts in the online world are not always easily discernible. What if I disclaim, say in every other post, "That story I posted 20 minutes ago? It might not have been all true." Because we can play with the truth here--serious journalists or entertainent journalists. AND we can also TELL the truth more easily by uncovering falsehoods that are hard to find elsewhere (ala rathergate).
We can claim to play with the truth. Or we can not make such claim. We can be a card-carrying journalist and anonymous all at once. And if our ISP gets hauled into court, can we make like Tony Pierce and point to his top-level blog disclaimer: Nothing in here is true?
But you know all of it is.
And none of it is.
One subtle but huge difference is that we are not part of a corporation: We don't have the cost of print, ink, paper, advertising, distribution, sales--just some of the dollar realities that make accuracy important in offline, hardline news, where corrections can cost $ as well as credibility.
Does that make us more frivolous with the facts? I'm probably guilty of that.
Luckily though, when we write in a space that is, as either Doc or David once said, inherently self-correcting. That means, over time, the facts have an opporunity to take care of themselves.
Read Chuck's And Part 2 he discusses burying the shield for once and for all, calling a source a source:
I think we should bury the shield. Yes, a journalist's most key asset is the ability to gain information, especially information that may otherwise be hidden. But, remember that any source generally has a reason for talking, and that reason is often far from altruistic.