Journalism goes way, way beyond media
Sep 12, 2011
Journalism vs. Blogging: Conviction of Blogger Raises Questions about the Definition of Journalism and Freedom of Speech
An Oregon judge's decision to convict a blogger to pay $2.5 million in damages reignites a discussion about what is or is not journalism. The blogger reported that an investment brokerage, Obsidian, was using false information and deceiving its investors. The judge decided that she should reveal the source of her news. She refused and he convicted her, saying that she is not a journalist, since she is not linked to any known medium. The episode is fundamental and the decision is ridiculous and harmful. Journalism does not belong to professional journalists.
The issue has sparked much discussion, but I agree with the sensational Dan Gillmour of the Knight Centre for Digital Media. In a column in the Guardian, he concluded the matter arguing various points, such as that journalism can be practised by anyone, although the overwhelming majority of people will never be journalists (professional or not). Gillmor nails the point, but also reminds us that the practice of "not revealing the source" has become common practice in the industry (my note, in the professional part of it) creating a license to lie or guess without having to make an effort. Anyone who can't remember anything like this, please consult business news and football transaction reports.
There is a fundamental point at issue here which is the possibility of preventing anyone from saying what they want. Professional journalism has become such a desperate search for audience that journalists have long forgotten basic principles such as distance from sources, impartiality, fact-checking and other points. "Journalists" with a lowercase "j" infest the scene, with dozens of vagabonds posing as serious journalists and then having long friendly chats with the characters in their stories. This journalistic scum relies on the law that should have saved Crystal Cox from conviction, it infects the practice and opens the way for conservative judges to give sentences that the status quo would like to maintain.
They would like to. But they won't. This is a lost battle for traditional media, even with its support from institutional icons. The Oregon judge (a Hispanic, a colony that has pockets of blatant conservatives in the USA), made a decision based on a premise that only interests established media outlets and which, in the vast majority, have not been doing journalism for a long time, having surrendered to scatology and sensationalism because they need to make money to support a dinosaur-like structure incompatible with the new media order. Today, with the exception of a few centres of excellence (such as, for example, The Economist, the BBC, The Guardian, Private Eye, PBS, Pro Publica, and many others), much more journalism is done on blogs and opinion aggregator sites than in the major media, which have large contracts that hinder their journalism.
This is not about Cox's acquittal. She may well be guilty and may even have been part of a campaign to undermine the credibility of Obsidian (although, if someone had said this about Lehman Brothers in 2005, say, perhaps the world would not have buried itself in an insoluble debt crisis) and if that is the case, she should be punished. However, the determination of her guilt should never have come from the fact that she is not a journalist. If not for a thousand other reasons, because traditional media have been failing in their obligation to society for a long time and do not deserve this credit. Good journalism is not the property of the major media outlets. In fact, their gigantism is what exactly condemns the practice of good journalism.
The spirit of journalism is still very much alive, but outside the media which for reasons that this blog has addressed a thousand times, are embracing their own bankruptcy. And to the journalists who nod their heads, thinking that it is right to convict a non-professional for journalism, a lament. You are on the wrong side of history and fighting with reality in exchange for the old favours that have led the class to produce this bog standards journalism that now bureaucratizes the front page of newspapers.