So who exactly is a journalist?

By Chris Ryndak

As I struggle to come up ideas for our second assignment, I started searching for random stories from college campuses.

Like any good search exercise on IMDB or Wikipedia, I quickly found myself a million miles away from where I began.

What I did find was an interesting Web site I’d never heard of before that featured a few news stories that tied into our discussion of ethics.

This story in particular, from the Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, caught my eye. It also deals with a problem I had early on in the class about what makes a journalist.

Following an investigation conducted by staff members that did not result in a published report, police claim that the students are not journalists and must turn over their findings (the original New York Times story is here).

This all started after Medill’s Innocence Project uncovered evidence that suggested that a convicted murderer was wrongfully convicted and imprisoned, the Times report says. The director of the Innocence Project, Prof. David Protess, tells the Times that he will not hand over any of the investigation’s materials.

How many times are stories written that never see the light of day for one reason or another? If someone does freelance work but the story is cut somewhere along the way, the reporter is still paid. The story is still the property of the newspaper and the publication is still obligated to protect its sources.

But just because it isn’t printed means that the reporter isn’t a journalist? That’s the vibe I get when I read the police’s justification for the confiscation. Authorities may just be grasping at straws.

However, if a judge ends up siding with them, it could result in many new dilemmas (resisting the “opening the floodgates” cliche).

Courts have often sided with the press in order to protect its First Amendment rights. New forms of media have made it harder to silence the freedom of speech.

With the influx of citizen journalism, where it’s said anyone can be a journalist, when is someone not a journalist?

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One response to “So who exactly is a journalist?

  1. These are great questions Chris. I don’t have answers, but I imagine the courts will have to start coming up with them soon. Can citizen journalists refuse to disclose sources? When Judith Miller, NYT reporter refused to disclose her sources in the Valerie Plame case, the NYT backed her and flooded the paper with news about her. The publicity and the high profile nature of the case made it news across the world. Everyone was talking about it. A citizen (or student) journalist would not have a built-in attention getter.

    Content: 4
    Links: 3 Thanks for pointing me here
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