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Who is a journalist? An ethical dilemma

Posted by: | October 28, 2014 | No Comment |

“Asking who is a journalist is the wrong question, because journalism can be produced by anyone” –The American Press Institute

This quote epitomizes the changing role of a journalist over the course of history. Today, a journalist is anyone who commits an act of journalism.

This is quite different than the definition of a journalist  in the early years of journalism.

The first journalists, in the days of the British Monarchy, needed special privileges to publish their work.

As journalism progressed, it became a specific profession. Journalists organized themselves into different publications, and each publication had a newsroom from which journalists would write stories, collaborate, and peel their eyes for the latest news.



Moving into the 20th century, this became the norm. A journalist worked for a newspaper, magazine, or news station. Their role and identity as a journalist was clear.

However, the 21st century has presented many challenges to this standard concept of a journalist.

Many of these challenges are the result of technological advances. Computers in particular have given everyday people access to two things important to journalists: unlimited information, and a platform to share ideas.

Since today, everyone is connected through the internet, we all (in many parts of the world) have infinite access to any information we desire.

Thus almost anyone is able to commit an act of journalism — or spread the news in some way.

Whether it be through a blog, a tweet, a Facebook post, a contribution to a site like Reddit or even a comment on an online article — the opportunities for non-traditional journalists to contribute to the world of journalism are endless.

A man sitting in his home publishing a blog discussing current international economic affairs now has the ability to call himself a “journalist” just as does an economics columnist for a major newspaper.



This dilemma presents an ethical debate over how and to what extent non-traditional journalists are protected under the same rights originally implemented to protect traditional journalists.

This debate has been brought as far as the supreme court, who has very loosely defined a journalist. Their definition considers journalism more of an activity rather than a job.

“Such a broad definition, however, would embrace everyone from a traditional reporter to Edward Snowden to a teenager live-tweeting from a rock concert.” -Thomas Kent, The Huffington Post

This definition includes almost anyone under the journalistic shield laws. It is clear the protection of journalists must go farther than just the traditional journalist — but the question here is,  to what extent?

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