Jul 142007

The space in newspapers, even the Wall Street Journal editorial page, is usually reserved for articles in which professional journalists and columnists can look down their noses at bloggers. Here’s one that’s different, though. It’s an article titled Redefining Journalism, by Scott Gant.

Some excerpts:

…Members of the House and Senate have introduced identical versions of the “Free Flow of Information Act of 2007” … This legislation would enact a statutory “shield law” protecting journalists from having to divulge certain information…Some of the challenges facing earlier legislation stemmed from disagreement about who should be covered….To qualify as a journalist, the organization must have the “processing and researching of news or information intended for dissemination to the public” as one of its “regular functions.” This constricted conception of who qualifies as a journalist is employed in many state shield laws. The Free Flow of Information Act of 2007, however, adopts a dramatically broader view of journalism and journalists….The sponsors of this legislation have appropriately resisted calls to regard journalism as something carried out only by employees of established news organizations…As journalism returns to its status as an activity rather than a profession….

That last phrase is helpful: journalism as an activity rather than a profession.

There is a reason why government should not be carving out special privileges and exemptions for certain people — especially when those people are partisan agents of the government itself who tend to treat all affairs as an issue of government vs the people. And carving out special privileges for government people tends to foster this unhealthy mentality of government vs the people.

I’m thinking of the corrosive effect of cop-killer laws, or special legal protections for judges, or special income-tax-exemptions for university graduate students, or special protections for journalists. These people should be working to provide justice for everyone, not just the privileged few. And they will be more motivated to do that when they have to eat the same dog food as everyone else.

Now some may question why I’m thinking of journalists as government partisans. Don’t journalists hate the Bush administration, for example? Well, yes, they do, but that’s because they and the government establishment view the Bush administration as an imposter, not as one of them. Note how when Clinton was elected, journalists were whooping it up along with Democrats who were preparing to replace Bush partisans with their own. Now when Bush-2 does the same thing, it’s treated by these same people as an abuse of power.

And why am I lumping journalists in with the government establishment? It’s mostly because the path to becoming a professional journalist is through university schools of journalism, which seem to suffer an advanced case of the disease that is destroying what we used to value in academia. As far as journalism schools are concerned, I say this as an observer from a distance. But as a closer observer of academia as a whole, I note that while there is still is some room for diversity of thought, it is becoming rarer. Ever since sputnik, universities have more and more been becoming agents of the government with less and less tolerance for intellectual diversity and dissenting views that are uncongenial to the government establishment. See, for example, the type of opinion that was ruled out of bounds for posting on an office door at Marquette university, in my blog entry Academic Intolerance.

Even if I am wrong about how journalists get to be the way they are, any special protections ought to be made (as Scott Gant puts it) for the activity of journalism, and not for the profession.