When is a journalist a journalist?

This question should be getting old by now, but it’s like a pimple that keeps coming back. For the uninformed, the issue is “professional” versus “amateur,” old media versus new, press versus blogger.

USAToday examines the matter of Apple suing two bloggers over publishing “trade secrets” and comes to the conclusion that it’ll be a test case in the courts over whether bloggers qualify as journalists.

Ultimately, the issue comes down to whether bloggers act like traditional journalists, says University of Iowa law professor and First Amendment specialist Randall Bezanson. Simply expressing opinions to a tiny audience doesn’t count, he says. If so, “then I’m a journalist when I write a letter to my mother reporting on what I’m doing. I don’t think the [constitutional] free-press clause was intended to extend its protections to letters to mothers from sons.”
What a crock! “Act” like traditional journalists? “Qualify” as journalists? This whole article is based on the assumption that there is one job description that fits the word “journalist.” As I’ve written before, this slipperly slope leads to a place nobody wants to go. Do we really want the government licensing journalists?

Apparently so. Romenesko repeats a question being asked — how does Jeff Gannon of TalonNews.com get into White House press conferences? The site is run by the Texas Republican Party, so Gannon’s critics say he isn’t a journalist, but rather a White House tool to soften media coverage of President Bush. You don’t say! Wasn’t that the formula for pre-“professional” news organizations? Weren’t THEY journalists?

I think this is perhaps the most exciting time in history to be alive and a part of “the media.” Change is underway, and the status quo keeps circling the wagons to protect its fatted calf. I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t know anybody who does, but I have faith in the people and their ability to get it right under the Constitution. And I’d rather have that than a journalist license any day of the week.

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