Damnit: Journalism is an act, not a person

There is real danger in the proposed federal shield law. They would exclude bloggers. But forget bloggers. They would exclude citizens who commit acts of journalism. That is one side of the peril. The other side is that they will certify “professional journalists” by one definition or another and then have the power to decertify them.

“As to who is a reporter, this will be a subject of debate as this bill goes farther along,” [Sen. Richard Lugar] said in response to a question from Washington Post Deputy Managing Editor Milton Coleman. “Are bloggers journalists or some of the commercial businesses that you here would probably not consider real journalists? Probably not, but how do you determine who will be included in this bill?”

According to the first draft of the Free Flow of Information Act of 2005, the “covered person” protected by the bill’s terms includes “any entity that disseminates information by print, broadcast, cable, satellite, mechanical, photographic, electronic, or other means and that publishes a newspaper, book, magazine, or other periodical in print or electronic form; operates a radio or television station (or network of such stations), cable system, or satellite carrier, or channel or programming service for any such station, network, system, or carrier; or operates a news agency or wire service.” The legislation also covers employees, contractors or other persons who “gathers, edits, photographs, records, prepares, or disseminates news or information for any such entity.”

A key reason some journalists oppose the popular federal shield proposal is fear that giving Congress the power to define who is and isn’t a journalist could lead effectively to the licensing of journalists.

Journalism must be defined by the act, not the person.

  • Angelos


  • dan

    well….not today i guess :) though, actually, now that i think about it, that’s not true. i seriously cant stand when people spell damnit with the “n”…. it just…ruins the whole flow of the word. double “m” it. that’s what i say. then again, i say radiator. as in something that’s rad…..so what do i know….?

    that post that you wrote back in august though….it was spot on. you know, that beginning part. i was trying to explain to some people the difference between “content is king” and “the medium is the message” – and to illustrate the significance of tmitm i was using the idea of credibility and trust in the delivery of information…. and in looking up “content is king” i found your post – i was actually trying to find out if that quote is attributed to anyone in particular, like tmitm is to mcluhan. you dont happen to know by any chance, do you? a correct answer might get me to change my mind about you :)


  • TomCS

    Are you surprised? When the first round of Apple vs Does was alive, I commented on Copyfight that attempts to stretch classic journalist protection to every self-styled blogger or citizen journo was stupid, because it inevitably posed the question of what professional standards and training, or management structure, qualify someone for special journalist status privileges. When does a blog become a publication? Can a single, unedited blogger ever meet any possible standard for special treatment under the law? What is the difference between me defaming someone in a flier I stick to railings and lamp-posts, and putting the same content in my blog? Do three bloggers sharing a site., no editor,but all with law degrees, get protection? Or will they need journalism/media degrees? Or five years at the NYT or LAT?

    Your approach is probably even worse because it implies that my Monday blogging (this week) is not worthy of protection, but somehow on Tuesday what I do is. How do you litigate that? By definition, only after the event, which gives the blogger no security at all, and opens him/her up to guerilla tactics by the lawyers of any unhappy subject. You are right that this is dangerous, but blame the bloggers. The draft for example would appear to protect “information” and “news” but not “comment”. I think I will retrain as a journalism lawyer: so many lovely, expensive, cases ahead. What about PR companies, issuing informative releases about their products?

  • Angelos

    Does Jeff Gannon get a license?

  • I soo wish I was a bourgeoisie in America right now……..I could intimidate the media, get huge tax cuts…..

  • Since there is not and will never be consensus on what a “journalist” is, and since shield law which incorporates a narrow definition will be unjust and one with a broad definition will seriously impede the criminal justice system, it seems to me that the only answer is not to pass a shield law at all.

    I simply don’t find the arguments in favor of a reporter privilege to be compelling. I’ve never found them even slightly persuasive.

  • You could not have said it BETTER. I am a journalist and have been writing about technology for years. HOWEVER, I “think” I’ve also got a blog – which is the conduit through which my writing flows. I mean really, journalism is indeed what one does not who one is.

    Ramon Ray, JOURNALIST / Blogger!

  • The government’s just getting antsy with all the relativist conversations about journalism. It doesn’t like social relavence any more than most individuals. Government doesn’t deal well with paradox…

    Yet government really doesn’t need to create any laws like this, as it’s all pretty much controlled here on the ‘net. Anyone can call themselves a journalist, but it becomes pretty evident quite early as to who the “journalists” happen to be–they’re usually the ones who claim a savant status by exculsively calling themselves “bloggers,” but actually have some journalistic background. There are no Horatio Alger stories out here any more than there are in the physical world.

  • Andy Freeman

    > There are no Horatio Alger stories out here any more than there are in the physical world.

    There are Horatio Alger realities in the physical world.

    My father was born in a log cabin without running water, let alone electricity. His family got around on horses, and this was in the mid 20th century. My mother was a little better off – her childhood home was made of planed wood.

    They are a long way from that today; Tish would probably attack them as “rich”. (And no, “great society” didn’t help them.)

    Their story doesn’t parallel the classic Horatio Alger story – they didn’t make it by catching the attention of some rich person as did Alger. They made it by hard work and not doing dumb things.

  • Anyone who is serious about this subject should repeat / do the following:
    Yahoo News treats blogs as news.The (traditional) news media treats covers, cites, and refers to bloggers as “news”People USE blogs for news.
    Anyone who blogs should claim their blog as a hobby-related expense, which legitimizes it in the eyes of the federal government, therefore it’s “news”.

  • owl 1

    Steven Ben Beste, I agree. Do not pass it. Everything about it offends me rather like the IFC. The Freedom Center did not need to occupy that site and receive the support that accompanied it. Same with this law.

    Jouros do not need this nor deserve it. They are not another branch of government with special favors, regardless of their own view of themselves. I could care less if it is a Republican or Democrat that favors this shield………..I don’t. Who is so special about one business that it deserves more protection than one branch of government? They do not speak as elected officials and even if they did, I still say it is another IFC slipping in the back door.

  • HA

    Between McCain-Feingold and the proposed FFIA, the triad of incumbent politicans, legacy media and the standing bureaucracy are doing a fine job of erecting legislative trenchworks around current power structures in this country.

    Here’s how the system works compliments of none other than Seymour Hersh:


    Another explanation was provided by a former senior C.I.A. officer. He had begun talking to me about the Niger papers in March, when I first wrote about the forgery, and said, “Somebody deliberately let something false get in there.” He became more forthcoming in subsequent months, eventually saying that a small group of disgruntled retired C.I.A. clandestine operators had banded together in the late summer of last year and drafted the fraudulent documents themselves.

    “The agency guys were so pissed at Cheney,” the former officer said. “They said, ‘O.K, we’re going to put the bite on these guys.’ ” [emphasis added] My source said that he was first told of the fabrication late last year, at one of the many holiday gatherings in the Washington area of past and present C.I.A. officials. “Everyone was bragging about it—‘Here’s what we did. It was cool, cool, cool.’ ” These retirees, he said, had superb contacts among current officers in the agency and were informed in detail of the sismi intelligence.

    “They thought that, with this crowd, it was the only way to go—to nail these guys who were not practicing good tradecraft and vetting intelligence,” my source said. “They thought it’d be bought at lower levels—a big bluff.” The thinking, he said, was that the documents would be endorsed by Iraq hawks at the top of the Bush Administration, who would be unable to resist flaunting them at a press conference or an interagency government meeting. They would then look foolish when intelligence officials pointed out that they were obvious fakes. But the tactic backfired, he said, when the papers won widespread acceptance within the Administration. “It got out of control.”

    Like all large institutions, C.I.A. headquarters, in Langley, Virginia, is full of water-cooler gossip, and a retired clandestine officer told me this summer that the story about a former operations officer faking the documents is making the rounds. “What’s telling,” he added, “is that the story, whether it’s true or not, is believed”

    So here is the triad in action. Rogue elements in the standing bureacracy oppose the policy of the elected administration. These elements fabricate a charge against election officials and leak it to the media. The media hounds administration officials until someone makes a comment that can be twisted sufficiently to spawn a criminal investigation. Then opposition politicians and like-minded pundits launch a smear campaign about an alleged culture of corruption.

  • HA
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