Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I, the Journalist

The First Amendment to the Constitution states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people to peacefully assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The emphasis in the above is mine.

The freedom of the press spoken about above is the freedom to publish, be it "news," opinions, stories, advertisements, open letters to the editor, or anything else that someone else might wish to read. The content was prepared by authors, called variously reporters, correspondents, copy writers, or more generally journalists. A journal is any daily account of events, whether those accounts be financial, a record of what you did with your time, a record of your travels on a day by day basis, or just your opinions about how events affect you.  In my career with the Navy, I used a product from Franklin Covey to record my daily plan, as well as how that plan turned out.  I did not publish it however. But, an interesting time can be had by exploring The National Diary Archive. A diary is another name for a journal.

Now, "blog" is short for "web log."  A log is yet another name for a journal.  Sailors kept logs of their travels with positions, weather, cargo, personnel, and anything else that might interest the owner of the vessel at a later time.  So, if a blog is a journal, and publishing on the web is a form of publishing, then I am a journalist. I have thought of myself as a journalist ever since I started writing this blog.

What got me thinking about it today was an article at The American Thinker entitled Who is the 'Free Press' in the First Amendment? by Dan Smyth. In the article, Smyth makes the point that it is not journalists, per se, but rather the technology of the printing press that is protected. Smith makes liberal use of an article published by Eugene Volokh (blog: The Volokh Conspiracy) to back up his claim. The "press" therefore was not intended to denote an industry, a class of mandarins with special esoteric knowledge, or the "Fourth Estate," but rather to give anyone who has the means of publishing his content the ability to do so without prior restraint.

All of this seems straight forward enough. But, you would be wrong. Apparently, in a case involving liable, one Judge Marco Hernandez has declared that since one Chrystal Cox, the blogger involved, did not attend Journalism school, and since she doesn't have a boss, in the form of an editor looking over her shoulders, nor is she an "authorized journalist" from an established media company, she is not a journalist. Never underestimate the ignorance that comes out of the mouth of highly educated Judges. Of course, if Judge Hernandez had pondered on the history of journalism just a little bit, he would have discovered that most of the great journalists learned their craft through something called "on the job training," not going to elite Journalism Schools. Our early journalists were often a hard bitten, sometimes hard drinking lot with up close and personal experience with the human condition. Couple that with a healthy sense of irony and a particularly interesting turn of phrase and you have your instant journalist. Indeed, having lived a life worth writing about used to be seen as a plus in a journalist's resume.

I can not speak to the issue in the Chrystal Cox case of whether she committed liable or not, nor can I speak to the Oregon Shield Law, but I can say that I, and others like me, are indeed journalists.  I don't make a dime from doing this, and my circulation is relatively small, but I am a journalist none the less.   

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