Filing before flying

I’m jetsetting this weekend, so I need to file my blog away before hitting the wi-fi-less airport. (Why don’t airports have wi-fi?)

As our speakers from J-Lab discussed “citizen journalism” or “participatory journalism,” I started thinking about why we have this classification. Back when there was an easy way to distinguish “journalists” from “citizens” by the press pass around the neck, it made sense. But now, I’m not sure there is a difference.

Take a Law & Order episode (sorry, I’m obsessed), where a blogger/citizen journalist found herself caught in a sticky “journalism” situation. She was told to reveal her sources (or hand over a video, I don’t remember which one). Jack McCoy, being the hard ass that he is, took her to court to compel her to reveal her sources. Her lawyer argued she was a journalist and therefore should be afforded the same rights (even though we have yet to pass a federal shield law) as “journalists.” McCoy argued she didn’t have the same training as a reporter at say the New York Times, so she shouldn’t be treated on the same level. He claimed to classify Jane Blogger (I don’t remember the name) as a journalist would give anyone the ability to hide behind some wall so as to not talk to law enforcement.

Now, this seems a little ridiculous. But what really is the difference from the reporters and editors at West Seattle Blog and those at the Seattle Times? Or today, the new online-only Seattle P-I? Is the classification really education or training? Plenty of reporters never go to j-school and no newspaper would want that to be the qualification. Journalism doesn’t lend itself to a licensing operation like doctors or lawyers. But really the question is, do we want to make a classification? Why can’t everyone be a reporter?

I’m not talking about having thousands of people at Robert Gibbs daily briefings, but I simply mean Jane Blogger in Little Town, Iowa, should be able to ask questions, find answers and reveal truths. She doesn’t need a degree to do that.

I recognize the pluses of an education (hello, j-student), and I think there is an important difference between MSM and Jane Blogger. I see how Daniel Stone at Newsweek, for example, is better than Jane Blogger who wants to just write about White House politics. I don’t think, however, that means she isn’t a journalist. Why add “citizen” before it?

Reporters ask tough questions (or they should) and I believe the world would be a much better place if more people asked more questions. The journalism establishment shouldn’t be trying to make Little Jane Blogger feel like she can’t ask those questions. I think putting a label on it sends a message that “journalists” are better than “citizens journalists.” The J-lab works to build up these citizen projects, so I doubt they would ever say this is true. In fact, I imagine some citizen journalists do their job much better than those with the “training.” So what’s really the difference?

For more information about reporter shield laws, Reporters Committee is a great resource.

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