Just Who Is a Journalist?

Submitted by Kevin Cronin on Wed, 03/21/2007 - 17:39.

Ohio’s “concealed carry” gun law has raised interesting questions- who is a journalist? 
In case you hadn’t heard, a guns-rights group (Ohioans for Concealed Carry) tried to exercise an exception and get the list of people in Clermont County applying for the right to carry a concealed weapon, information available only to journalists under the law.  The group, citing their website and group newsletter, asserts they are journalists under the law (or the law’s “journalist” requirement is too vague to enforce). 
I certainly don’t think the group qualifies as a journalist, but where do you draw the line?  At the outset, I think the name of gun permit applicants should be public information and the distinction to make the material available only to journalists may be too vague to enforce.  But the question remains “who is a journalist?”
Here’s my attempt at a confusing issue:  In my mind, a blogger is a journalist as long as objectivity is an important operating principle and the publication is open to the broad community. The distinction is the label on the page: I know when I read the op-ed page, I am reading someone's personal opinion, but while reading page 1, Metro, I am expecting a higher standard.  When I am reading a magazine, there may be casualness or breeziness to the material, but it’s not reflecting a specific agenda.  Bloggers, particularly those presenters of a mix of facts and personal opinions, are at different points on the continuum, but at least on the continuum. Bloggers may be journalists or they may just be interesting and worthwhile writers who periodically serve as a conduit for very important information. 

However, the "journalist vs. blogger" distinction is less important than the "reporter vs. promoter" distinction.  Journalists, and their 21st century blogger brethren, put material out to the public in an open-ended fashion.  They publish - the entire point is to present information.  If a blogger is funded by a discrete and identifiable group or interest, the blogger sacrifices any claim for independence and objectivity.  That’s not journalism (they’re called press releases).  A news release or writer from an organization or political group is not entitled to the same treatment as promoting the agenda, not information, is the goal. 

That’s not even on the same continuum.

journalist simply meant someone who wrote for journals

Excellent observations, Kevin. It is interesting that in the interest of not being Union affiliated media cleveland.com is not a news portal and so the content is promotion - and one can say PD content that is posted there is just promotion as well - as Wikipedia defines... "Some mass-market newspapers make no pretense of impartiality", so they are specifically not journalism (otherwise, they should talk to their unions about paying union wages, etc.). I think the modern concept of journalism and reporting is largely a scam. There is no license to journal or report, that I know of... I covered BBC World Have Your Say and the PD did not so I was the journalist of that, and it was linked worldwide. Ultimately, I think most journalists and reporters are  writers and other content creators expressing impressions of the real world who have found an audience, regardless of where or how. Some report on current events - some capture human interest - some explore some other context, like fashion - the definition is a non-issue, except that free-market interests want to protect market share any way they may. I believe in free markets and competition over communism and monopoly. On the other hand, the Sunday PD loves to promote their $400 of coupons each week, so I suppose they have some value.

Disrupt IT


On Lee Batdroff’s March  5 post on Realneo here I took the position that Josh Wolf was legitimately in contempt of court for his willful failure to produce portions of his video tape to a grand jury.  Since my earlier response to Lee’s question of “what makes a blogger or a journalist a journalist” I have done more research and reading regarding the particulars of Josh Wolf’s case, and my view that Mr. Wolf is in contempt of court has changed.  I recant my prior viewpoint and now support the position that Mr. Wolf must be granted immunity from discovery.  Here’s why my viewpoint has changed:


If anyone who held a camera or other recording equipment and used it in public during a public civil (or even criminal) confrontation  could be forced to produce their records to a court, it would mean that any citizen with a camera – whether or not there was even an issue regarding journalism  - would be turned automatically into a proxy police photographer.  This would have the effect of creating severe danger to anyone who had a camera in a civil unrest - or many other public - situation(s).   The cameraperson’s equipment would be in danger of being destroyed by the participants in any legally questionable civil event.   And the cameraperson themselves would be clearly put in grave personal danger.


I do quite a bit of photo taking myself and have had reactions from police when I have taken photographs of the police making traffic arrests and pursuing other police activities – an overturned dumptruck which I was photographing for example.  Sometimes police have reacted towards me – while  I was not even involved directly in the altercation which the police were involved in -  in a aggressive and threatening manner,  clearly intended to intimidate me and dissuade my photography.  


So as a bystander in public I have had pressure placed on me by the police not to photograph.  And the police are not the group which may be participating in a situation of civil disobedience so if the police can be tough on a photographer, think of how rough the situation could get if it were not the police which were anxious about a photographic record.


If Josh Wolf is forced by the court to divulge his camera footage, no cameraperson will be safe taking photos at any edgy public event.   Participants in a event which is pushing the envelope either towards the right or the left, will know that they need to destroy cameras to protect themselves from possible prosecution.   Using the public as proxy police photographers will have a severe chilling effect on the public’s ability to collect information, and will have a chilling effect as well on public demonstration of non main stream viewpoints.  This  creates serious constitutional freedom of expression and  assembly issues.


Following is a pertinent segment of the   Brief of Amicus Curiae from Reporters Committee for

Freedom of the Press,  WIW Freedom To Write Fund, And Society Of Professional Journalists.


The Freedom of the Press pdf frustratingly is a pdf which does not allow selecting and copying text.  This is extremely frustrating as the document, filed in Court, is a puplic document.  Adobe and the law firm which chose to use this copy-proof pdf format need to rethink it.   This hi-jacking of the written language is an issue for another day.   Suffice it to say Bill Gates won't be on my side.....

Although I believe that Mr. Wolf's records taken during the  public event should not be discoverable whether or not Mr. Wolf is deemed to be a "journalist", Mr. Wolf clearly does qualify as a journalist as a "common law journalist" pursuant to the following paragraph from the same Freedom of the Press source quoted above.  And incidentally, Mr. Wolf  received a journalist award several years prior to the present issue.