Thursday, June 22, 2006


I've been thinking about this post for the past couple days. I found it interesting, but I don't agree with the basic framework for the professor's approach to answering the question, "Who's a journalist?"
Asked about factors that should be considered in determining whether someone can be described as a journalist, Wilkins said the first one is whether they are paid by a news organization.

"There's an ethical issue here: To whom do you owe allegiance?," Wilkins said. "If your allegiance is to the public interest, then you might make a claim that you're a journalist. You're certainly not acting exclusively to yourself.

"If you're allegiance is to you or the x-number of hits on your web site, than that's a different problem."

Having been paid by a wide variety of news organizations, I can say without hesitation that the public interest is not the primary allegience for a journalist. We could argue this point, but I would maintain to my ink-stained grave that the primary allegience of a journalist is to his or her editor. And, like any true reporter, I can say with even more confidence that I don't have the slightest clue where editors' allegiances lie. (As Edna Buchanan said, there are three rules reporters absolutely must follow: Never trust an editor; Never trust an editor; and never trust an editor.)

Deeper still, I have a problem with the whole "public interest" thing. What is the public interest, really? How can anyone presume to know it well enough to claim allegience to it?

Like, we could argue that the Star and KCTV five claim such an allegience. My sense is that the professor would concede that both are staffed by legitimate journalists.

Over the past few years, KCTV has increased its audience, while the Star's readership has declined. I'm not saying that the two are diirectly correlated. But I will point out that KCTV has made some dramatic changes to the content of its newscasts. The Star probably made some changes as well, but not ones so dramatic as to warrant a comment like, Good Lord! They've really changed!!

So does this mean KCTV has become more closely allied with public interest, while the Star is falling out of step? Perhaps, but I doubt it's an argument the prof would make. Indeed, I'd bet money that she's say KCTV's changes undermine the integrity of journalism. (I would!)

And this kind of gets to the underlying context for the question, which was the more specific question about whether or not bloggers can be considered journalists.

Folks like me who make no money off of this 21st century hobby have little allegience beyond the things that interest us. For the most part we don't hide our biases and conflicts of interest. We just write stuff. If people want to read it, they will. If not, they won't.

True, a lot of what we write is drivel. It's polemic, partisan, and full of gramatical errors. But collectively we offer a vast selection of ways to absorb information about the world we live in.

For instance, dreadnought gives me the inside scoop on what it's like to be a teen in the Northland, and with it a unique perspective on cultural phenomena like the new Cars movie. Lately, pomegranate has been running a poignant, touching and well-written account of dealing with a serious illness in the family while trying to keep up with the rigors of nursing school. It's the kind of real-life drama daily newspapers' features departments seem to desperately want to convey, but can never quite do. I can get an in-depth look at life in Antarctica in the dark middle of winter. And yes, I can even get a steady stream of tidbits gleaned from the notebooks of the staff of a daily newspaper.

And there's millions and millions of information sources like this -- some of it brilliant, some of it awful.

On the political side, one does find a lot of shamelessly biased and partisan stuff, like the Fired Up Missouri blog that recently sparked this question about who is a journalist. But here again, I think this is valuable information (not that I pay attention to it everyday). Aren't these massive waves of commentary that rise up from the blogosphere in the wake of "big news" also big news in their own right? Aren't these musings a hyper-current, ever-shifting representation of who we are right now? Isn't it in the public interest to know who we are?

Well, who better than us to report it?

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