We’re all journalists

The US House of Representatives recently passed a federal shield law for journalists who receive “substantial financial gain.” This is encouraging, but as the Citizen Media Law Project explains, there are some fundamental problems:

This change significantly narrows the bill’s coverage and is plainly aimed to exclude non-traditional journalists. But it doesn’t just exclude those whom some in Congress derisively call “bloggers.” The new definition would likely exclude many freelance journalists who must rely on other work to supplement their incomes. Do we really want judges to be deciding whether a journalist is earning enough money to qualify for protection?

More to the point, is financial remuneration the criterion we want to be using when we draw the line between those who are entitled to engage in journalism under the protection of a federal shield law and those who must venture forth unprotected? It seems to me the answer is no. To limit the privilege only to journalists who receive “substantial financial gain” misses the point of how media and journalism are evolving. Most crucially, it misses the growing — and essential — role of citizen media creators. They are the closest analog since the nation’s founding to the Tom Paine-style pamphleteers the First Amendment was designed, in part, to encourage.

Journalism is changing and much of the establishment doesn’t seem to have realised.