My Photo
Blog powered by Typepad

May 2005

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31        

« A Dying Craft, or a Dying Business? | Main | I'd Resign, but I'm Not a Member »

March 30, 2005


Robert Leonard

I think the issue becomes one of scale and credence because of the term "anyone".

If your content falls on a Web page and nobody sees it, does it really exist? (Mailed to me this morning by someone).

If someone sees it, the publisher (controller) must act responsibly to retract, correct and remove "the wrong" and then quantify the exposure.

This is no different than the "Professional Press" except that we can quantify, exactly, the damage/exposure.

bob leonard


When we talk about journalism in this way, what we are really discussing is how far an individual can go before he/she is stomped by a large corporation who dislikes what is said.

If the current trend continues what we will get by default is this: On the one hand, professional journalists backed by corporations and on the other hand, judgement-proof individuals who own nothing and whom it is pointless to sue. They will have new sites constantly pop up as the old one get shut down. Both are protected in their own way from lawsuits. What we won't get is anything inbetween.

Unless the laws somehow change miraculously, we'll end up with bland blather on the one side, and insane ranting on the other. Dan is only safe as long as he doesn't piss off a major corporation, because if he does, he'll never financially survive it.

It's actually pretty scary.

Joe Buck

No professional press until the late 19th century? There were plenty of newspapers, and people making their living as newspaper publishers well before that. The Federalist Party's Sedition Act's main purpose was to shut down anti-Federalist newspapers; that was in the late 1790s.

Danny Sullivan

Shaw's a bit conflicted when he says, "Are bloggers entitled to the same constitutional protection as traditional print and broadcast journalists?" Which broadcast journalists were operating in the 18th century? Suffice to say, the framers weren't thinking of television or radio journalism when they wrote the protections. But journalism grew to encompass those new media. Web journalists, of which bloggers are a part of, will eventually grow to be encompassed as well. It's not about the medium you use -- print, radio, web, blog on the web, email newsletter, watercolors. It's about what you do and whether your actions are ultimately defined by those in authority as having journalist value.

Terry Carruthers

Are we stuck on the current definitions of journalism and journalists?

I would love it if someone would go back to the origins of the U.S. and analyze how "journalists" were defined then. Anyone with the money and the desire could be a pamphleteer. Maybe we have circled back to the past where credentials are not important.

{I know this comment is rambling and unstructured, but I can't seem to get a handle on this subject and am frustrated by that inability.}

Dan Gillmor

Danny, Shaw's conflicted, but I think with honest intentions. He's not trying to defend the business he's in, but the craft. That's important.

Mark Deuze

My apologies for this long comment, please bear with me:

Perhaps it is useful to consider the function this discussion has: by asking the question, "who" a journalist is (or rather: what constitutes 'real' journalism), and engaging this debate among a select group of elite insiders - because despite the blogosphere, only a few voices will effectively be heard - journalists in their most traditional sense - as professionals - can rally the troops behind the flag of a couple of ideal-typical concepts they've used for ages to legitimize themselves: ethics, public service, objectivity, and so on.

If the norms, values and professional practices of journalists are thus naturalized, who are we - who is anybody - to answer the retorical question what journalism is, or to define who is and more importantly: who isn't a journalist? This debate is therefore as old as journalism is more or less professional. It serves journalism by creating the illusion that it opens journalism up for debate.

Thus: its not the question who is a journalist or what is real journalism, but rather: what makes for access, production and consumption of meaningful information in todays' global society, where one half of the planet is interconnected and always online, and the other half has yet to make their first phone call? My normative guess: access should equal content under a creative commons license; production should take place through an open publishing model; and consumption requires the democratizing power of a critical media literacy (to be taught in primary and secondary education). Under those conditions, we can genuinely discuss what "journalism" is.

That said: if anything, the seemingly revolutionary changes in grassroots journalism Gillmor, Rosen and others signal should be understood as expressions of an increasingly participatory media culture, of which the foundations include ideas, things and social arrangements like:

- the right to vote
- freedom of speech
- the remote control
- the open source movement
- radical/tactical media and (new) social movements
- the rise of 'monitorial' citizenship
- commodification of higher education
- and so on.

Please note, that "journalism" is not included on this incomplete list.

What say you?


The existence of newspapers and writers is not synonymous with the journalistic profession. The concept of "objective" journalists with some professional expertise, as some have noted, is a relatively new concept, and one whose existence I think is destined to be sorely challenged (see the various comments on the imminent demise of news media.

The founding fathers obviously (to me) thought the existence of a free and independent press was important. The distinction between editorial writers (like the pamphleteer Thomas Paine and writers of broadsides) and reporters stems in part from the reaction to the manipulative yellow press of Pulitzer and Hearst, and to the muckraking writers around the turn of the century. It was only with the emergence of the mid-20th century reporters that some expectation of objectivity and content mastery became an expectation of journalists by the public...a position strengthened by the Murrows, Cronkites and their broadcast peers whose market services came through the public airwaves.

I guess the bottom line is that WHO is a journalist is less important to me that WHAT is a jounalist...and do the shills and whores of the media qualify for the title by right or by merit?

Joe I.

Dan -

If anyone can be a journalist then why can't anyone get a press pass to a political event (?) or I would be much more interested in a press pass to a concert :) if a blog is what is takes sign me up....

There are limits. I say one should be required to graduate from journalism school, a la lawyers and other professionals who get educated in a field. You must have a degree in the subject and pass an exam. This is the only way in my opinion in the future to ensure who is and is not a 'journalist'. It will come I believe.

Robert Leonard


Interesting thought "a la" journalist, esq. But consider the fact that a "group" like a bar association is deciding who (what) can be written (which means also, what can be read). I believe there is something in our constitution that prevents that.

On a second note, I am involved with an online newspaper, and we do assign press passes to people, in what may seem a random fashion. We control their validity with expiration dates, territory and subject limitations (not to say they could not make their own, but most are not that savvy, sorry to say). We validate the best way economincally possible (phone number, email, sample of writings). They work (I can fax you a copy of my democratic convention passes).

Bob Rosenberg

[ irony ]

Problem people like Thomas Paine & John Peter Zenger *must* be reined in.

*True* journalism rules.

[ /irony ]


Alex in  Los Angeles

Dan Gillmore:

I say, let's look at this right from the perspective of what serves the public interest in their efforts to become an informed citizenry.

Do we as a society want to protect our own right to information as a sovereign people? Do we want to protect are own actions in publishing that information for ourselves and our fellow citizens?

I would love if the debate was framed as, "how much does the common good demand that we limit the right of the public to publish information vital to an informed citizenry?" Too often the debate is framed as, "who deserves certain special rights as a journalist," which I think is not in the spirit of the Constitution.


Can anyone be called a "doctor"? Or an "engineer"? Or an "architect"? Or a "private Investigator"? Or a "hairdresser" (yes, in some states you need a license!)? As much as the free-spirit bloggers want to be called journalists, there might have to be some criteria.

And how does the practice of "freedom of the press" by bloggers jive with the limits of free speech? Responsibilities may change as a person switches roles between being a recognized journalist and being Joe-citizen.

This will be interesting as many people don't realize that to enjoy or employ a freedom, there are certain responsibilities that go with it. Blogging and new media are in a wild west stage. Can everyone be a journalist? Or is it just part-time? Do journalists need a license?

In my mind, when evaluating new media, I look at the credentials, funding and their "angle". I think many of us agree that there is no such thing as true objectivity.

Again, this will be interesting. I guess this will come down to what will the public recognize as a journalist?


Unfortunatly, the mainstream media are allowed to lie (by law) because "The court said the FCC’s prohibition against news distortion is merely a policy".

"...a higher court agreed with FOX that it is technically not against any law, rule or regulation" ... " broadcast what the jury agreed was "a false, distorted or slanted story""


Joe I.

Robert --

You constitutional point is bogus. Anyone can write and read anything now. It is only who has the protection of the free press clause. I would argue this is what a journalist has above others and should be restricted to professional journalists through some form of licensing, and not some political hacks or someone with no college degree. I can defend myself don't have the privilages of a lawyer to act in someone elses defense. A writer above mentions all sorts of professions that are restricted through licensing. I can probably design a skyscraper with a crash course and some helpful software templates but I am legally not allowed to build one because I am not a licensed architect....

I say the same philosophy should apply to journalists by way of professional education and credentials. The rest of the people are bloggers, hobbyists, political hacks, and propogandists even if they do some form of accurate "journalism."

Dennis Dunleavy

People need sources of information they can trust in a manner that fits their lifestyle and time constraints. If newspapers go the way of the Dodo does mean that the sky is falling?
* apologies for the mixed metaphors


Human beings are social animals and newspapers have been part of our social fabric for a very long time. In this digital age of immediate and automatic everything, some of the strands of this fabric are becoming frayed and unraveled.

News functions as a form of diversion and surveillance in society. However, what form this information comes in is shaped by an array of economic, political, social, and cultural practices, habits and routines. How people consume information newspapers constitutes ritualized practice.

Older generations of Americans were habituated to the structure and hierarchy of information that was disseminated and presented through the printed word. This model clearly does not hold true for younger generations who repeatedly show little interest in picking up the newspaper reading habit. I get mushy and emotional when I think about the feeling of holding a newspaper in my hands, albeit a fleeting sensation.

Most of the young people I know today don't understand what the big deal is since they were not raised to make a habit of reading a newspaper. Young people go elsewhere for information or use a combination of sources to fulfill themselves. During my career in journalism I have worked for newspapers in different states that have been sold, merged or closed for various economic reasons. I have seen layoffs, firings, downsizing, and pink slips and walking papers countless times.

When a newspaper dies out part of the community's identity dies with it as well. A newspaper provides a community with a sense of place that cannot be found on the Web.

The newspaper, traditionally, has been the community's historical and social repository of collective knowledge. Radio, television and the Internet do not offer the same temporal and spatial qualities of a newspaper. Perhaps one reason why newspapers are having such a hard time is because tradition takes a long time to change and die out.

Another possible reason is that the corporate newspaper model in this country fails to see change as a positive thing. Change in the corporate world means uncertainty, and is perceived as a threat to the status quo. When cultural practice and ritual is squeezed into a formula for increasing or maintaining profit margins, something will eventually give.

The problem with this is that people have been habituated to rely on and trust the printed word, but this perception is changing. People look upon printed news sources much the same way as they do television news -- with suspicion and incredulity. The capitalist market model embraced by the corporate giants that now dominate press ownership do not appear to value the reader's intolerance to inaccuracy and ambiguity in the news.

Corporate interests are woefully disinterested in encouraging transparency if it means making concessions to changes in human behavior. People "blame the media" for all sorts of problems, but what is rarely discussed is how much of the media is really predicated on the values cherished by business types and not journalists. Rarely do I hear from the media, "Let's blame big business" for the crisis in confidence related to journalistic integrity, or "Let's talk about information alternatives" rather than the health of an old gray lady.

I think that's why big business, and I would like to include any entrenched social institution is this definition, has such a hard time wrapping itself around the de-centralization of information that comes with blogging and the Internet.

I may not be able to hold a blog in my hands like I can a newspaper but I can still get a sense of identity from it. This sense of identity is what makes blogging so unique. No longer are people at ease with trusting the integrity of large corporate issues with information that matters.

The biggest problem facing newspapers today is that they have lost their sense of collective integrity and social responsibility. Integrity in an advanced capitalist society appears to subsumed by a bottom line mentality seeking increased profits over public confidence and trust. At the same time, every opportunity I have had to be employed by newspapers in the past has been based on markets and demand. Therefore, talking about the value of newspapers as a social artifact while discussing why they are fading in the dust of economic and technological transitions is so painful and problematic.

Robert Leonard


Its not that I disagree with you, I just believe the media becomes the controlling agent in its own quality control. No one out there is declaring “anybody” as a journalist, but what today’s tools and products are permitting is anyone a soap box. The problem with the soap box, is anyone listening; few have a bully-pulpit.

Freedom of the press has always been and will be to those who own the press, only now, the press has become much less expensive lowering the cost of media such that a journalist, like Dan Gillmor, can be in the media business if he so wishes and has the following enough to pay for the groceries.

I fear the day in this country that the title “journalist” is granted by a governing body rather than a commercial entity. There are reasons why doctors, architects and even beauticians need to be licensed, but please, never restrict a writer from telling me “how they saw it”; I want all sides so I can make my own decisions.

Hmmm, let me try defining “journalist” in the year 2020:

“One who has been read at least two times by at least two people”

It’s the reach that a journalist has that many of us seem to be concerned about, not whether they are called journalist.

Bob Leonard

Gerard Van der  Leun

How do you become a journalist? The same way you become, say, something like a "literary agent." You print business cards.

Dan Gillmor

True. But having a card that says "journalist" doesn't make you one until you commit the act of journalism. You don't need a card for that, anyway.

Alex in  Los Angeles


Why so willing to have the public information limited via a licensing of journalists? Our constitution demands no such thing and smacks of the type of totalitarian control of information found in Soviet Russia.

You wrote:
"You must have a degree in the subject and pass an exam. This is the only way in my opinion in the future to ensure who is and is not a 'journalist'."

While it may be true that what you describe would settle the definition of journalist, why would you WANT this to happen? What benefit do you get from this arrangement other than the comforting thought that the news you're getting is officially sanctioned by your superiors? I, of course, admit this has a certain appeal for some mindsets.

You also wrote:
"It is only who has the protection of the free press clause [that is in question]. I would argue this is what a journalist has above others and should be restricted..."

I agree with you so far, and it is a good point that Dan raises. What does the free press clause intend? I would admit it isn't a free pass to anyone claiming to be a journalist. But it should reasonably protect works of journalism and the authors of that work, in the context of that work, without regard, IMHO, to who the author is.

You continued:
"... to professional journalists through some form of licensing, and not some political hacks or someone with no college degree."

Here is where you lose me. I believe the restrictions could reasonably be action based, not person based. Press Freedom granted more to content, rather than to any particular individual, if that makes sense. And certainly without any form of licensing, especially in light of your next phrase indicating what type of people you feel should not be licensed.

It is to your phrase excluding, apriori, from journalism certain people that I have the most problem. I really must especially disagree with your notion that political hacks or someone with no college degree should not be protected the constitution. Political press, by hacks or not, is probably exactly what the constitution has in mind. Or you you want the government sanctioning legal action against certain political writers? Maybe you feel safe that your preferred political sensibilities will always be the societal norm and so you don't feel the need to protect the rights of a political minority?

Like I said you lost me there.

"How eager they are to be slaves."
-Tibuerius, from Gore Vidal


I would argue that someone is a "journalist" when he/she becomes responsible for their actions related to freedom of the press - which superceeds some of their 1st amendment freedoms.

I feel very strongly that there are responsibilities that go with freedoms.

Alice Marshall

And how does the practice of "freedom of the press" by bloggers jive with the limits of free speech? Responsibilities may change as a person switches roles between being a recognized journalist and being Joe-citizen.

Joe Blogger has exactly the same limits as professional, how shall I say, ordained-by-editors journalists. You may not libel and you may not invade privacy.

Robert Parry has a whole section of his Consortium News web site titled "are the media a threat to democracy" and when I hear it suggested that the first amendment only applies to certain, licensed, ordained-by-editors journalists, I feel a chill up my spine.

If American Journalists collectively suggest that they have the right to sell the names of CIA case officers and have no obligation to assist the grand jury in its inquiries, but the rest of us are not entitled to a free press even though it says so in the first amendment, then I greatly fear for the news media and the country.

Gerard Van der  Leun

Here's an interesting point about the relationship between traditional journalism and the secular society that I had not thought about before:

"The Secular Revolution includes chapters by various authors on the success of the secularizers in public schools, in turning back the politics of moral reform, in shaping jurisprudence, and in the ascendancy of a self-consciously secular media. On the last, Richard Flory nicely documents the ways in which journalistic “professionalization” went hand in hand with secularization. According to the doctrine of the professionalizers, journalism was uniquely essential to civilization; the evolution from primitive to professional journalism was inevitable; journalism was the “educator” of the masses; religion was reduced to morality and ethics, and all religions were to be treated equally; professional journalism was the functional equivalent of and successor to religion. As Flory shows, journalists were very explicitly instructed in these doctrines, and he illustrates the effectiveness of the instruction in the treatment of religion in the New York Times over the past century."
-- FT March 2005: The Public Square


How does this jive with Dan's other recent main post complaining about "another journalist" on the government payroll? If everyone is a journalist, then what's the big deal?

The reality is we don't know the bounds of what a journalist is and isn't and, until we do, we will all be hypocritical at times as different issues come up involving "journalists".

As journalists talk about "right" and "wrong", which is based on morals, you can see that the definition of what a journalist is will be caught in the liberal/conservative culture war. It doesn't look like there will be a nice, clean definition.

Alex in  Los Angeles

Slate article on who is a journalist.

The comments to this entry are closed.