Who Is a Journalist? – Anybody Who Wants to Be

So argues Slate’s Jacob Weisberg.

Even before the advent of blogging, the issue of who qualified as a journalist was a tricky one. Were the pamphleteers of the American Revolution journalists? Was Mark Twain? Is Oprah Winfrey? With the proliferation of new modes of communication online, deciding who is and who isn’t a journalist has become pretty much impossible. Thanks to the Web, the Jersey barriers separating amateur and professional authors have been replaced with roundabouts and green lights. Until a decade ago, practicing journalism was an intrinsically expensive proposition, requiring either the ability to make a profit or subsidy from a sugar daddy. Today, a limitless number of people with no institutional backing can establish themselves as reporters, analysts, or commentators, abide by whatever rules they prefer, find audiences of varying types and sizes, and perhaps even earn a living. The old A.J. Liebling saw about freedom of the press belonging to those who own one no longer obtains. These days, freedom of the press is available not just in theory but in practice to an unlimited number of individuals.

There’s much more to the piece, most of it familiar to those who have followed the “are bloggers journalists?” debate over the last couple of years.

Weisberg’s answer, while flippant and unsatisfying, is probably as good as we’re going to get. Anyone can be a journalist. Not everyone who wants to be, though, will be a good one. The competition to be taken seriously will ultimately decide that.

Weisberg is also correct that bloggers can’t have it both ways, wanting all the protections of journalists without any of the down side. To the extent we oppose regulation of our blogs (for example, whether we should fall under McCain-Feingold) we should oppose regulation of all media.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.