The question in my case is irrelevant. I worked professionally for traditional news organizations (legacy media), have a college degree in journalism, and was a university professor of broadcast news and production for 30 years.
Clearly I am a journalist.
In a recent debate in the New York Times, Poynter Institute teacher Ellyn Angilotti, argued that the label journalists should apply to anyone whose publications display quality and integrity . That’s good as far as it goes.
Such a definition, however, does nothing to distinguish the infrequent blogger who posts occasional commentaries on Twitter or Facebook from the professional who publishes with regularity and consistency on a stand alone site.
What about persons with no history of professional media practice, those with no formal training in communication, those who one day decide on a whim to begin blogging? Do we afford those individuals the same rights, privileges and protections as we do editors, writers, and reporters of mainstream media?
There is more urgency for answers given recent events and their coverage in both legacy and social media.
The beheading of American journalist James Foley by an ISIS terrorist and the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, Jr. by a policemen in Ferguson, Missouri have inflamed emotions as audio, images and video of those events have circled the globe.
Are journalists posting this information or are they uploaded by voyeuristic amateurs? If the former, what ethical standard is applied?
If the latter, should their content be censored as Twitter and YouTube did?
Who is a legitimate journalist?
A more precise definition
A journalist is an individual who publishes with fixed regularity either for legacy or digital media. Such media clearly and prominently promote their intent to disseminate news, information or commentary either to a general or specific public through an independent vehicle of communication.
Said vehicle is the sole propriety of the owners of the medium and the content is generated by its employees alone. Publications posted in or on media open to public contributions, e.g. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or similar communication entities—although of possible significance, interest and value—do not qualify as journalism.
In other words an individual who claims to be a journalist has to demonstrate specific steps taken to distinguish his/her work from amateur publications.
Such steps include:
–creating a specific vehicle or site for dissemination of the journalist’s work;
–stating clearly and prominently the goals of the vehicle or site;
–listing all employees of the vehicle or site including board of directors, owner, manager and employees;
–clearly labeling the difference between reporting (citation of facts) and commentary (personal opinion);
–pledging allegiance to an established code of journalistic ethics or professional standards.
Unfortunately, this debate may be moot. As people around the world have access to ever-growing sources of information, does it even matter if the person posting is a legitimate journalist?
It does to me, of course, as I search for context and perspective–to separate facts from fiction, fantasy and fraud. Journalists provide credibility, non-professionals do not.
Legitimate news organizations and their staff deserve legal protection in order to pursue stories thoroughly, ethically and with a dedication to truth and clarity.
The miscreants and rumormongers on social media who disseminate lies and misinformation do not.