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Deciding who is a journalist

It’s interesting that we’re entering this module at a time when Congress has been working on a “shield law” for journalists. As part of the process, some definitions are being tossed around in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A post today on the Neiman Journalism Lab‘s site says:

Previously, the Senate was working with a version of the shield law (S. 448) that defined a journalist in broad terms, focusing on the process and craft of newsgathering. That stood in contrast to the House version (H.R. 985), which passed in March and defines a journalist as someone who gathers news and information “for a substantial portion of the person’s livelihood or for substantial financial gain.”


But language in an amendment to the Senate’s version, dubbed the “Free Flow of Information Act,” says a journalist is defined as someone who:

(iii) obtains the information sought while working as a salaried employee of, or independent contractor for, an entity—
(I) that disseminates information by print, broadcast, cable, satellite, mechanical, photographic, electronic, or other means; and
(II) that—
(aa) publishes a newspaper, book, magazine, or other periodical;
(bb) operates a radio or television broadcast station, network, cable system, or satellite carrier, or a channel or programming service for any such station, network, system, or carrier;
(cc) operates a programming service; or
(dd) operates a news agency or wire service;

Missing from that language seems to be bloggers or anyone who works for a standalone Web site (and possibly student journalists) — unless the argument can be made that a blog or Web site constitute a “periodical” of some sort.

This language suggests that there is a certain amount of respect for members of the traditional media, but that the new media folks haven’t paid their dues yet. It could also be that independent journalist and bloggers can’t afford to lobby Congress the way larger, established media companies can.

The legislation is currently stalled over concerns about leaks of material with national security implications, so we’ll see if it goes anywhere anytime soon.

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