Who is a journalist? That’s a question I’m attempting to answer, along with Doug McGill and Jeremy Iggers, Minneapolis Star Tribune staff writer and Twin Cities Media
Alliance founder. Our team will participate in the Media Ethics Colloquium to be held in Minneapolis in October. The sponsor is the Journal of Mass Media Ethics. The three of us are considering the phenomenon of citizen journalism, especially as it is driven by technology (background here).
For those of us who believe journalists have First Amendment rights because “we the people” have them first, the recent Apple ruling is good news:
Writing in a 69-page ruling, Justice Conrad Rushing of the 6th District Court of Appeal underlined the legitimacy of bloggers as bona-fide news-gatherers: “In no relevant respect do they appear to differ from a reporter or editor for a traditional business-oriented periodical who solicits or otherwise comes into possession of confidential internal information about a company.”
“We decline the implicit invitation to embroil ourselves in questions of what constitutes ‘legitimate journalism,” he continued.
“The shield law is intended to protect the gathering and dissemination of news, and that is what petitioners did here,” added Justice Rushing.
Legitimacy is an interesting (modifying) concept in regard to journalism. Does the concept identify a quality of protection for the public, the profession, or something in between? Is it a quality of the journalist, the institution, or something else?
Here’s what Doug and I said earlier (link above):
Boiled way down, here’s what we decided: Commercial news organizations do not get to decide who counts as a journalist; audiences get to decide who counts. So would-be journalists must create legitimacy among the publics they would serve. And we suggest three ways that may be done outside of a traditional newsroom: 1) be loyal to the audience first, 2) make the invisible visible (i.e. cover those people and topics the so-called mainstream media ignore), and 3) operate with a discipline of verification and as a custodian of facts. Do these things and you may properly call yourself a journalist.
In other words, to my way of thinking, what makes journalism legitimate is its socio-political utility for the public(s) it serves (what it does). Rushing separates journalistic practice (what we do) from legitimacy in journalism (what we are) in order, I suppose, to keep the legal focus on behavior associated with exercising First Amendment rights.