Defining Journalism

Can you truly restrict the definition of “journalist” to a specific group of people? Google describes a journalist as “a person who writes for newspapers or magazines or prepares news to be broadcast on radio or television.” However, in the age of technology, much of journalism has moved online, both in the form of professional online publications and amateur blogs. So how can we really decide where the line is? Many bloggers are serious about their work, while several “professional” journalists have proved to be frauds. Does this mean that the fraudulent writers are more credible than the serious amateurs?

The government has been working to more closely define the true meaning of journalism. This means that anyone who does not meet their specific credentials would not have the same rights as one who does. For example, in Lake Oswego in Oregon, real media is being defined as “‘institutionalized,’ ‘well-established’ and producing at least 25 percent news content” according to this article from the Oregonian. Citizen journalists, bloggers and any journalist who works for a publication that produces less than 25 percent of content will be shut out from city council meetings and other closed gatherings. This definition dismisses serious journalists as simple, insignificant bloggers who are not worthy of covering this kind of news.

The city council argues that, if our society continues to expand its definition of journalism, then anyone could be considered a journalist. The meetings would practically become open if they were to allow anyone in. While their argument is logical, it’s hard to see why anyone who isn’t serious about journalism would attend one of these meetings. It certainly doesn’t seem like the sort of event one goes to for a night full of entertainment.

The proposed media policy states that “media representatives would be allowed to attend executive sessions if they provide evidence that includes ‘proof satisfactory to the City Council that the person is gathering news,’ along with a press badge, a recently published news article with their byline or an editor’s note on letterhead.” However, according to the Oregonian, the council meetings are often called at the last minute, meaning it would be hard for anyone, professional or otherwise, to scramble to get their credentials in order. It would seem that, with such strict rules, the council is trying to block everyone out of their meetings. It would perhaps be simpler and more just if the council were to allow admittance on a first-come-first-serve basis. If they let in the first five or ten people who wanted to report on the meeting, they would not need to focus so much on defining something that is so clearly situated in a grey area.

Senators in California are working to define “real journalism” as well. They have decided to leave out nonsalaried reporters and WikiLeaks employees. This means that even freelance journalists who have done professional work would be left out. Those who do not fit this strict definition would not be protected under the shield law, which protects the confidentiality of both the reporters and their sources. Given this information, WikiLeaks reporters and their sources would be susceptible to court orders and severe punishment for simply doing their jobs. Whistle-blowing is one of the most important features of journalism, and by denying protection to those who want to expose wrongdoings in government, the rest of the nation would remain ignorant to serious problems happening in their own country. The government would continue to become more powerful.

Another issue is that news itself can hardly be easily defined. What counts as news? The definition seems arbitrary, and the government is going to great lengths to narrow it down to a precise meaning. The government should not be putting restrictions on journalism or trying to control those who practice it. The point of journalism is to keep the government in check, but how can that be possible if they are shutting everyone out? As the definition becomes stricter, the government gains more power; this is dangerous. Without journalists to keep politicians in line, who will?

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