With the Apple case in full-swing, everyone keeps asking “Are bloggers journalists?” I think that this is the wrong question. We can all point to bloggers who are not journalists, don’t want to be journalists and never will be journalists. This creates a pendulum swing where all of a sudden people exclaim that bloggers are diarists! And thus you get stupid shit like “should web diarists be allowed into the press corps?”
This isn’t working. We need to get off this train.
Let’s switch artifacts for a moment. Paper. What do people use paper for? They take notes, write lists, document their lives, and publish things. Hmm. These practices sound a lot like some of what people do with blogs, only using a different medium. Of course, i’ll be the first to argue that blogs and paper are architecturally very very very different – that have notably different affordances and result in entirely different culture. But they both have an array of practices associated with them. And thus, you would never ask something like “Are paperists journalists?”
We know that not all bloggers are journalists. The question then becomes – are some? Well, this is where it gets interesting. Who gets to determine who is and is not a journalist? Historically, there were limitations simply concerning who had access to the materials to be press – things like the printing press. Thus, institutions got built up that were clearly press.. and then they consolidated infinitely until you had monopoly press and indie press. But there’s nothing like a bar association for the press, nothing that professionally declares one person to be a legitimate member of the press and others to not be.
So what actually demarcates someone as press? Identity. They see the work that they are doing, the values that they are following – they see this as journalism. We live in a country that rightfully included the freedom of press in its Constitution. There’s a realization that press should be separate from the government. Well, in a society were the lines between corporations and governments are difficult to see, should we really assume that only corporations can have the right to lend credentials to journalists? This seems like a dangerous statement.
Should journalists be credentialed by some overseeing organization? Perhaps. But they aren’t now. And legitimacy through corporate affiliation is not something that seems to resonate with the sentiment of freedom of press. Maybe bloggers should join the professional journalism societies – maybe that would help.
Some bloggers declare their practice to be journalism. They are trying to determine the “truth” of a matter. Sure, prior to Walter Cronkite, it was virtually nonexistent to discuss one’s personal opinion associated with news stories. But now? C’mon – have you seen Fox lately? Studies have been done over and over again showing that journalists’ opinions are discernible in their writing and televised coverage. Some bloggers are indeed putting their opinion in their coverage, but at least they’re being explicit about it rather than pretending to hide behind a curtain of pretend universal truth.
I think that the question needs to be shifted. We need to stop asking if bloggers are journalists and start asking if journalism can occur on blogs? People didn’t used to think that journalism could occur on radio or on TV. And there’s no doubt that the medium changed the practice. But we all recognize these venues as legitimate sources of news. In a society of corrupt media, a shift in media is actually quite appreciated and should not be oppressed simply because it does not yet have legitimacy or because its legitimacy is not associated with any corporation’s credentials.