We may soon have to come up with a way to determine which journalists are "real" and which are "fake." It could happen if a bill being pushed in the Senate by Richard Durbin, Democrat from Illinois and assistant Senate majority leader, gets any traction.
Sen. Durbin's bill wants to define journalists as those who work for an "established media organization."
Why even bother to define who is real and who is not?
Durbin says everyone has the right of free speech but those who work for established media are in a special class and need special protections. He wants such a definition because he is pushing for passage of a federal “shield law” that would allow bona fide journalists to hide their sources.
Journalists protecting sources is hardly a new thing. How many reporters have been threatened with or actually went to jail rather than give up the name of a source? Lots of information would dry up if reporters had to divulge their sources, and a key role of the media in a free society is to help make government (and big business) transparent so we, the public, know what our leaders are really doing and how our money is being spent.
I'm for the shield law, but now we have to determine what is an "established media organization."
It used to be fairly easy to figure what is established media. Most newspapers, except perhaps for some local weekly or monthly papers that are more ads and the publisher's politics than news, would qualify as established media. The same would be said for TV and radio networks, cable news channels and local TV and radio stations.
But what about blogs, online news sites like HuffPo and Politico and uncounted Facebook sites and Twitter feeds? If they report on news, even from a second- or third-hand position, are they established media?
Jack O'Dwyer,in a recent post, points to a piece in The Atlantic online that talks about real and fake journalists. The author covers a recent trend where celebrities and business leaders label journalists as fake if they feel they got a story wrong or cover something they don't want covered at all. It points to one example where a celebrity got upset because a gossip writer erroneously wrote that his wife was tweeting while at James Gandolfini's funeral. Kind of rude and innappropriate, but does that make the gossip writer a fake journalist?
The writer, Rebecca Greenfield, ends her piece with a good summary...
"The sins of one, however, do not reflect the state of the entire media, nor does an insulted public figure a media critic make. It's hard to take even the most apt criticism seriously when it comes from a place of personal offense. The state of journalism isn't in disrepair because it criticizes you or your lifestyle."
And we still don't know what's a fake or real journalist or what makes a media outlet an "established" one. Maybe Congress will help us with that, instead of dealing with less important things like the economy, healthcare, immigration reform and, oh yes, the sequester.