I am taking a break from the other, more important stuff I'm writing, to air a personal pet peeve of mine exacerbated by this Seattle Times editorial arguing in favor of a federal reporter shield law:
Debate continues about the measure’s definition of a journalist. It clearly applies to journalists at traditional news organizations but some bloggers fret it excludes them.
Oh, isn't that cute? Those precious little bloggers are fretting, are they? What a bunch of sillyhearts.
I mean, could the editors get any more fucking dismissive?
I won't pretend that the question of how to define journalism is an easy one, but the establishment's penchant for belittling the concerns of bloggers is both offensive and dangerous. I just came off a grueling assignment piecing together the details of a criminal case based on interviews with unnamed sources who would not have cooperated but for their trust that I would protect their identity. It was a pledge backed up not just by my own journalistic ethics, but by Washington State's reporter shield law.
But if, rather than publishing in The Stranger or posting to Slog, I had posted this exact same article to my old blog, HorsesAss.org, I would have been denied these legal protections. And for what reason? Because at HA I lived off contributions from readers rather than a paycheck signed by Tim Keck? In what world does it make sense that an independent blogger could be punished with jail time for refusing to reveal sources whose identity a "traditional" journalist is professionally and legally honor-bound to protect?
This commoditization of journalism—this effort to peg not just the value of our profession, but its very definition, to whether the market is willing to pay for it—sets a very dangerous legal precedent. For by codifying this definition in statute it gives courts an avenue toward denying bloggers other basic rights and privileges traditionally afforded the press. In the end, it won't be the First Amendment that determines who is entitled the constitutional freedoms guaranteed the press, but rather the employment practices of media corporations.
My caution to my colleagues who have yet to experience our profession from the perspective of a second class journalistic citizen, is to adopt a there-but-for-the-grace-of-a-failing-business-model-go-I mentality. For one day you too may be forced to ply your trade outside the protective embrace of a traditional news organization. And then you too may one day be told by the courts (or a sitting attorney general), that regardless of the quality of your work, you are no longer a journalist at all.