Anyone with a smartphone can now do reporting: share geolocated photos, video or stream what’s happening. I’m here, you’re not, here’s what I see. Does such “citizen reporting” rise to an “act of journalism” and need to protected under the First Amendment? Increasingly, I tend to think that it does — and that’s going to be a key question in the not-so-distant future, if Congress gets around to re-examining shield laws. Shield laws have been an issue for years, in the context of how the digital media ecosystem has democratized the means of publication, particularly of reporting images and video.
Currently, there is no federal shield law to protect sources and methods. Last year’s ruling in Oregon cemented the reality that 20th century shield laws lag today’s social media realities, even if the blogger in question turns out to have gone far beyond where many of the people initially defending her realized. A subsequent clarification showed that the judge who made the ruling believes bloggers can be journalists.
Honestly, some days I find the gatekeeping and credentialism I still see and hear disquieting. Since my degree is in biology and sociology, not “journalism,” should I get kicked out of the profession? Without getting testy, this attitude is exactly what will allow governments to arrest people livestreaming because they aren’t “members of the media.” (I also think it’s why there are still tables for “print only” in Congressional hearing rooms and 20th century rules for hard press passes for broadcast, radio or print journalists in the Senate and restrictions on the use of computers in some House subcommittees.)
Who gets to decide if someone is a journalist? Is someone who works at the Daily Enquirer who posts pictures of a naked celebrity a journalist — but someone who posts pictures of a cop beating a student is not? What about a columnist who writes about the Greatest Athlete EVER versus a blogger who chronicles how well documented city council hearings are and issues with the document format or codec type from the software vendor? The odds are good that it will be U.S. Senators and judges who make that call: it’s important to think carefully about which side you come down upon and why.
This stuff is ALL really blurry. Is Twitter journalism or isn’t it?. What about tweets? Blog posts? Video?
Remember, there are companies who have tried to criminalize linking or embedding. There also folks out there in media land who have say linking is unfair aggregation. Both could be an issue for what some practitioners have called social journalism.
We need to be careful about being quick to exclude or defend turf in a historic moment when the practice of journalism has become more open to all then ever before, particularly when press freedom continues to be under pressure globally and whistleblowers are being prosecuted domestically. The bloggers vs journalists debate has significant potential downstream impact that matters, even as it morphs into “curators vs journalists.”
Honestly, I’m starting to think that the term “curators” should have been left in museums, where it was quite clear what they did. How about “editors vs curators?” Fuzzier, right?
Hey, I love it when people link and share my work, personally. I hate it when they plagiarize, don’t link or attribute it. Curate me, please!
Personally, if someone produces work that is fair, accurate, adds necessary context and based on the available evidence, I’m generally happy to call it journalism, regardless of whether the author is on a masthead somewhere or has the right B.S. on a sheepskin.
This post has been updated with links and commentary.