Burriss on Media: Real Journalists

Oct 22, 2012

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (BURRISS)  --  Life used to be so much easier when “freedom of the press” just meant newspapers. Then came movies, radio, advertising and television, and things got a little confusing. The Internet added some more mystification. But blogs and bloggers? Well, now we’re talking a whole new level of bewilderment.

At one level bloggers consider themselves the equivalent of mainstream journalists, or at least the same as colonial-era speakers and pamphleteers. But now the question has become, who is a blogger and who is just a private individual who sends a bunch of e-mails to a bunch of people, or has a social media site accessed by friends and family?

Here’s the problem: The Alaska Supreme Court has ruled that private e-mails that deal with public issues are public records. By implication, this also means that these electronic communications come under state Freedom of Information laws.

It used to be that you were a “journalist” if you worked for some kind of mainstream media outlet. And being a journalist meant you had all kinds of First Amendment protections. With the rise of the Internet, more and more “civilians” began calling themselves journalists and the professionals usually went along. There was a fear that any restrictions on these so-called journalists would be applied to real reporters and commentators.

Unfortunately, these efforts at defining anyone and everyone as a journalist are forcing courts to define who is a journalist and who isn’t. Which means the government will be settings standards and definitions.

For years real journalists have been fighting to make sure mainstream journalism has been broadly defined to include newspapers, magazines, movies, radio, television and advertising, and their related web sites. Unfortunately, it appears efforts to expand this definition may have backfired.

I’m Larry Burriss.