A journalist by any other name…

It’s becoming harder to define who – and what – a journalist is. What
should we call this new breed of information gatherers? And why does it

In an article for Salon, Dan Gilmor wants to know: who is a journalist?

Gilmor is writing a book that aims to “persuade people to become much more active users, not passive consumers, of media. Part of this is what we’ve traditionally called “media literacy” — among other things, applying critical thinking to what we consume. And because we are all becoming creators in the Digital Age, it also means we need to apply some basic principles so people will trust what we say (assuming we want to be trusted).”

His dilemma: what do you call these media creators? Traditionally, we called them journalists. Does that title still apply?

The problem isn’t just about semantics, Glimor points out:

“Asking the question in the right way has real-world impacts. So-called shield laws, for example, aim to protect whistle-blowers and the journalists whom they tell about government or corporate wrongdoing. Some states specify who counts as a journalist, which leaves out a huge range of people who effectively practice journalism nowadays; it also encourages a pernicious, back-door licensing of journalists. The right approach, if we need shield laws at all, is to protect acts of journalism.”

He gives an example of a regular person sending links, with a comment explaining why they’re worth clicking on, to a mailing list. He writes: “If I tell you, “That was an act of journalism: You curated, aggregated, wrote commentary and created meta-data,” your response, appropriately, will be, “Huh? I was just forwarding some links.”

And the word “journalist” carries some negative connotations. “Epic failure to do our jobs — Iraq and the financial bubble are Exhibits A and B for the past decade — combined with an obsession for sensational, trivial topics has contributed to plummeting respect the public has for the craft.”

But asking who is a journalist is missing the point – the real question, Gilmor says, is “What is journalism?”

He gives some examples of the ever-blurring line between journalism and, well, everything else, including bloggers, Facebook and community micro-reporting. Is it time to redefine what journalism is?