Is she scooping you on her blog? Could be.
Does that make her a journalist?
Creative Commons photo by Michael Melrose.
Last night, a representative from the Electronic Frontier Foundation posted this tweet: “What makes a journalist a journalist is whether she is gathering news, not the method or medium she uses to publish.” The message was part of the weekly Web Journalists Chat (found under #wjchat on Twitter), which discusses issues related to digital journalism.
The tweet reminded me of a debate that I’ve grown tired of listening to: Who’s a journalist? Are bloggers journalists? What about people who just happen to be on the scene and take photos?
I often hear my ethics professor, former Washington Post editor Len Downie Jr., sidestep the whole bloody mess by using the phrase “someone who committed an act of journalism.” It’s a beautiful solution because the journalism is what should matter. Fighting over whether Matt Drudge is a journalist or if the National Enquirer should be eligible for a Pulitzer Prize doesn’t really matter.
But in the wake of the tweet, I’d like to do something radical. I’d like to throw a dart into the game of definitions.
Journalist, n. A person who is likely to commit acts of journalism.
My definition differs only slightly from Merriam Webster’s first entry: jour·nal·ist: a person engaged in journalism.
The difference, however slight, is what matters. Sure, bloggers (and TMZ and your grandmother) can be — and have been — “engaged in journalism.” I maintain that unless they do it regularly, they aren’t journalists. A saying about stopped clocks being right comes to mind.
But maybe your granny regularly posts photos of petunia show winners, then moves into asking questions about their gardening techniques and sharing those with the readers she’s suddenly attracted. Then, I’d maintain she’s probably the best journalist ever to cover the local flower show beat. She’s become likely to commit acts of journalism. (If you’re smart, you’ll invite her to contribute to the hyperlocal community news page you just set up.)
So it is with programmers, too. If, as a programmer, you’re a code monkey that facilitates other people’s stories, I wouldn’t call you a journalist. If, however, you’re a code monkey who goes looking for databases to pull stories out of, I’d argue that you’ve become a pro-jo. Your actions mean you’re out looking for trouble — and looking for trouble is a sure sign of the pursuit of journalism.