Who Is a Journalist?
Who is a journalist? This is much more than a rhetorical question. It is a pragmatic one, with serious ethical, legal, and craft ramifications.
The question is disarmingly simplistic. If we’re not careful, simplistic answers will emerge, but they will not satisfy. It’s easy to maintain that the question is passé if we think today’s 24/7, electronic, hyper information/ entertainment/persuasion world has so obliterated the lines between media functions that the death of journalism has become inevitable. On the other hand, some dogmatists find it compelling to draw hard and fast lines in the territorial sands, defining journalism in ways that include only a select few highly moral professionals while de-pressing or excommunicating everyone else. Meanwhile, it’s equally problematic to broaden the definition of journalism such that everyone qualifies (“We’re all journalists now”).1
Today the majority of individuals who call themselves journalists are not full-time employees of traditional news media; they work (sometimes as freelancers, sometimes without pay) as reporters, videographers, and commentators on Weblogs (there were more than 50 million blogs by 2006, with thousands more appearing daily), cable outlets, and ’zines, locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. One-quarter of Americans say the Internet is their main source of news. Millions rely on Comedy Central’s Daily Show and late-night comedians, who constantly spoof mainstream media, for fresh perspectives on the “news.” The Federal Communications Commission ruled in 2003 that Howard Stern’s program was a bona fide news interview program. YourHub.com, founded and supported by regional newspapers concerned about the absence of youthful readers, invites people to post anything they find interesting; their motto is “Whatever story you want to share, YourHub.com is your place to do it.” A goal of the public journalism movement—a movement