Who is a journalist?

In the wake of the recent scandal involving the government’s monitoring of the Associated Press and Fox News reporters the Justice Department released its new guidelines on investigations involving the news media. And while they certainly provide long-needed protections for journalists working for the established media, the outcome looks grim for independent journalists, bloggers, freelancers and non-salaried journalists.

The problem lies in the the DOJ’s dramatic narrow definition of who is a “member of the news media,” which under their interpretation does not include bloggers and freelancers. Throughout the guidelines they repeat over and over, “news media,” however do not ever use the words “journalist” or “reporter.”

The DOJ’s Domestic Investigation and Operations Guide reads as follows: “News Media” includes persons and organizations that gather, report or publish news, whether through traditional means (e.g., newspapers, radio, magazines, news service) or the on-line and wireless equivalent. A “member of the media” is a person who gathers, reports, or publishes news through the news media.

However, immediately after this they go on to exclude bloggers.

“The definition does not, however, include a person or entity who posts information or opinion on the Internet in blogs, chat rooms or social networking sites, such as YouTube, Facebook, or MySpace, unless that person or entity falls within the definition of a member of the media or a news organization under the other provisions within this section (e.g., a national news reporter who posts on his/her personal blog).

The guidelines do follow-up by adding that if there is any question as to whether a person is a member of the media then they should be treated as such. However with such a clear but limited definition, it doesn’t leave much room for doubt.

This narrow definition is causing alarm among many in the journalism community leading opinion writers and columnists throughout the country to weigh in on this issue asking, is the intent of the DOJ to move the US government closer to an official, state-sanctioned press.

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