Who is a Journalist?

One of the brightest lights in the LGBT citizen journalist/blogger world is Pam Spaulding at Pam’s House Blend.  In addition to her work as an LGBT activist and citizen journalist, she is also actively engage in thinking about the role of citizen journalists and bloggers.  Let’s highlight two recent pieces by Spaulding that add to that conversation.

At Bilerico Project, Spaulding asks why the government is defining who is a journalist and therefore who should be covered under a federal shield law for reporters who do not want to disclose their sources.

This is about ensuring that there is a wall between real journalists and the perceived unwashed masses of ignorant, unqualified bloggers who are mucking up the system. This is a serious issue, because I believe that reliable citizen journalists do have the respect of traditional media in some circles, but this legislative bid to create a firm wall is declaring war on us.

Spaulding points to a Wall Street Journal article that says the proposal by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) would limit shield law protection to one who:

“obtains the information sought while working as a salaried employee of, or independent contractor for, an entity–

a. that disseminates information by print, broadcast, cable, satellite, mechanical, photographic, electronic, or other means; and

b. that—
1. publishes a newspaper, book, magazine, or other periodical;
2. operates a radio or television broadcast station, network, cable system, or satellite carrier, or a channel or programming service for any such station, network, system, or carrier;
3. operates a programming service; or
4. operates a news agency or wire service.”

Spaulding argues that there is a danger in both creating a federal definition of who a journalist is and not providing protection to bloggers and other citizen journalists who make money from ad revenue and not salaries.

She recently talked about the importance of LGBT citizen journalists and their growing acceptance in journalism and activist circles at the Huffington Post.

It’s a headless monster in many ways — digital activists in this world are frequently not Big Gay insiders. They are often part-time activists — people who feel strongly about issues and use the Internet daily. They never intended to lead or even follow movement leaders; they are just handy with the Internet tools of the trade, and have something to say about equality that resonates with readers.

The irony is that traditional LGBT organizations want desperately to replicate the success and speed of online grassroots activists. But their very structure — non-profits built on top-down management decision-making that is always beholden to influential donors — cripples them in ways the independent LGBT Netroots never have to be concerned about.

And that goes for LGBT news media as well. Feeling the same financial pain the traditional print publications are experiencing with the economic downturn and drop in ad revenue, there is no pleasure in seeing LGBT publications shutter. Bloggers and activists are highly dependent on the strength of news media with an LGBT focus that has a budget to send reporters to do stories the online activists simply don’t have the funds to do. It’s a symbiotic relationship as well — many LGBT reporters want their stories linked on high-traffic or influential gay blogs because it expands their reader reach, and builds support to continue doing the work critical for both journalism and the equality movement overall.

One Response

  1. FYI: In recognition of the increasing importance of bloggers, NLGJA recently changed its basic membership requirements as follows:

    “People who derive income from the gathering, editing or presentation of news or editorial content for print, broadcast or online. Includes the right to vote and run for office.”

    The previous requirements said that basic members needed to essentially be full-time journalists. Now, most bloggers can be basic members.

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