Should Shield Laws Protect Journalists? Or Journalism?
from the key-distinction dept
...although defendant is a self-proclaimed “investigative blogger” and defines herself as “media,” the record fails to show that she is affiliated with any newspaper, magazine, periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system. Thus, she is not entitled to the protections of the law.Mathew's post covers a number of other recent cases that have been more broad in saying who counts as a journalist. And, of course, there have been attempts at creating a federal shield law for journalists.
But what really strikes me about this, is that a ruling like this seems to be looking at the wrong issue. It's not about whether or not it protects journalists, but whether or not it protects journalism. That is, in a few similar rulings, it always seems to come down to the affiliations of the person -- with the claim from some that if they're not working for a "media organization" then it means that "everyone" is protected by the shield law. We can discuss whether or not everyone should be covered by such a law, but even that misses the point (in a big way). The fight isn't over who should be covered, but what. The point is to protect journalism. And journalism is defined by the action, not the person or their affiliations. Anyone can do journalism -- associated or not. This does not mean that everything is journalism, however.
For example, I've noted plenty of times that I am not a "journalist." However, at times, I most certainly engage in journalism.
This can be true of almost anyone. If what they are doing for the sake of gathering some information is in the process of gathering that information to better inform the world of a subject, I think it's fair to call it journalism. However, that does not make the protections so broad that everything can be kept secret. In such situations, information can be revealed when it was not done specifically for the purposes of informing the public.
Unfortunately, this distinction between journalism and journalist seems to get lost all too often in these discussions, and it's why we get bad decisions like this one.