Monday, October 10, 2005

What is a journalist, if not a blogger?

My training is journalism. My profession is political. I am also a blogger.

When I write my blog, am I acting as a journalist?

Richard Lugar doesn't think so.

As currently written, a proposed Federal Shield Law would not apply to Bloggers, or other writers, unless they are affiliated with:

“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."

Lugar leaves open the possibility of modifying his definition, but the no matter how he writes it, the statute will attempt to define, for legal purposes, what a journalist is. And that is a problem.

No matter where you draw the line, you will create a special class of people for protection under the law. That special class will be above the law in certain circumstances. Attempting to draw that line is a mistake. It ignores the history of publication by the unincorporated masses – like pamphlets during the Revolutionary War.

By defining a journalist, and extending a protected status to that defined group you are at the boundary of licensing journalists.

Does freedom of the press suddenly become freedom of the licensed press?

It may create a bastion of freedom for the mainstream media, but does it serve the public discourse.

Are shield laws important? I have always opposed special access for reporters. I have always argued that the history of journalism is one of activist citizen, not privileged class.

If providing shield laws opens this can of worms, we aren’t well served by it.