Published: December 22, 2011
Get out your copy of the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment, and read what it says about journalists.
Have you found that part yet?
Actually, you probably won’t because those documents don’t mention journalists at all.
The First Amendment talks about “press” and “speech,” but says nothing about journalists.
So, what’s the problem?
Well, a few years ago we knew exactly who journalists were: They worked for “the press,” i.e., newspapers, magazines, radio or television stations, and their actions were, by default, protected by the First Amendment.
But, now both government officials and the media are trying to figure out who is a journalist.
The government wants as narrow a definition as possible; the media was an expansive definition.
What about people using cell phone cameras to take pictures they hope to sell to a magazine?
You may be tempted to say that person isn’t a journalist; but a few years ago they were called “freelance reporters.”
Is someone who runs a blog a reporter?
Be careful if you say “yes,” or “no.”
After all, some blogs reach a larger audience than do some radio and television news outlets.
More and more, these are not idle questions.
Are students covering stories for school newspapers journalists?
After all, they are doing investigating, reporting, analyzing and writing.
It used to be that reporters were given press credentials that allowed them into places ordinary citizens couldn’t go.
The idea was that the reporter was acting as a surrogate for the public, and they would gather information then relay that information to readers, listeners and viewers.
But does that then mean the people who send video files to a news websites are reporters?
After all, they have gathered information and are relaying it to a larger audience.
If so, then anyone can be a reporter, and thus have all sorts of First Amendment protections.
Maybe the answer lies in what they are doing: Gathering information for the good of the public, rather than who they are.