Video Introduction and Book Review “We’re All Journalist Now”
We’re All Journalist Now. Scott Gant. Free Press: New York, 2007. 240 pp.
Note: Please see the video introduction for the book review before reading the review. Thank you.
Click here to see video: Video Introduction for the Book Review
Today I had the opportunity to create a news report on what students here at the University of Washington like to do for fun. I interviewed students and business owners. This video report included footage of restaurants, movie theaters, bars, coffee shops and the University Village mall. Then, I edited and created a one minute and 30 seconds video. This video will hopefully be shown at Palestra.net The College Network (news for students). Does this mean that I’m a journalist now? Do I have the same privileges that professional journalists do? Am I protected by the freedom of press? After all I did everything that a journalist supposed to do including research and interviews.
The book We’re All Journalists Now by Scott Gant addresses two very important issues throughout its pages. The first is what a journalist is. The second is about the reasons behind the problems and consequences that journalists have to face in regards to freedom of the press. Gant doesn’t provide direct answers to these issues; instead he provides enough information for the reader to come up with their own conclusions and answers.
Gant mentions that according to a 2005 poll, 40 percent of the participants indentified Bill O’Reilly as a journalist. This opens up a door with many questions about “what makes a journalist?”. One of the definitions available by the dictionary is “activity of profession or writing for newspapers or magazines or of broadcasting news on radio or television” (2). In addition, journalists have the role to alert and inform the public about important issues and to serve as a “watchdog”. This brings up a good point about “non-professional journalists” like bloggers who fit the definition of a journalist by the dictionary and who alert and inform the public as well. According to Benkler in The Wealth of Networks; bloggers are individuals who use the Web as a medium to broadcast and sometimes bloggers had revealed certain news information in the Web before journalist from the mainstream media does. However, Gant mentions that the definition and aspects about what makes a journalist are not being as simple it sounds. He states that there are other implications, in which, only professional journalists have “preferential treatment” (88) such as given certain rights and privileges that are not available to non-professional journalists like bloggers. For example, professional journalists are provided with a press pass to have access to places for which non-professional journalist don’t have access to, like war zones, crime scenes, disaster areas and government buildings like the White House, Congress and the Supreme court. Permission to access official records, the right to visit foreign countries to which regular citizen and non-professional journalist may not travel, like Cuba. In addition, he states that there is not a specific law that defines what makes a journalist. Consequently, is not very clear what makes a journalist, there is only a distinction about professional journalists and non-professionals journalist base on “privileges granted by state and local governments” (94).
Gant, also, brings another question about the reasons why journalists sometimes (professional and non-professional) are not fully protected by the freedom of the press. According to Gant “in the view of some Court watchers, the justices have gone out of their way in recent decades to avoid addressing the Press Clause” and “Court will continue to evade hard questions concerning the nature of press freedom and the meaning of the Press Clause” (72). This is a concern for journalists because they are being forced to reveal their sources’ names. Gant mentions that there are certain States that have created laws that protect journalist from having to reveal their sources, but when the issue is brought to a federal court, journalists have no protection “the absence of federal shield statute leaves an enormous gap in protection for journalist” (151). For example, two San Francisco Chronicle reporters were sentenced to as long as 18 months in prison for not revealing the information to prosecutors in the investigation of an alleged steroid use of athletes. This creates confusion because the First Amendment states that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; of abridging the freedom of the press (American Library Association: First Amendment of the Bill of Rights). If journalists have to face the law and sometimes find themselves in jail for refusing to provide the information of their sources, then this means that there is a law that conflicts with what the First Amendment, in regards to the freedom of the press, says.
In conclusion, there is not a definite answer on what makes a journalist other than the distinction of professional journalists who have certain privileges that non-professional journalists like bloggers or I don’t have. It is also true that neither professional journalist nor non-professional journalists are fully protected by the First Amendment under the Freedom of the Press and both can face the law in a Federal Court. This brings me back to the question of whether I am a journalist on not. I think that I am a non-professional journalist without all the privileges that professional journalists have, but at least I have the same protection that professional journalists do under the Freedom of Press which sometimes is not any at all.
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