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The study finds that in journalism industry definitions, a recurring theme was employment, or being compensated monetarily for journalistic work. In legal and scholarly definitions, the researchers finf a focus on social roles, such as government watchdogs or consumer protectors. (Credit: Radley J Phoenix/Flickr)

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To define ‘journalist,’ don’t mention money

Given the impact of technology and social media on the media landscape, we need a consistent definition of “journalist,” argue researchers.

Recent debates in the US Senate about federal shield laws, which are laws protecting journalists from being forced to reveal their sources by judges during trials, as well as recent newsworthy events such as Edward Snowden’s and Bradley Manning’s release of US government secrets, have created questions as to how a journalist should be legally defined in today’s society.

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Edson Tandoc, Jr., a doctoral candidate at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, has compiled the following broad definition of a journalist, based on extensive research on how society currently describes the role: A journalist is someone employed to regularly engage in gathering, processing, and disseminating news and information to serve the public interest.

“New technology has increased access to mass communication for many people, but simply having the ability to communicate on a large scale does not make a person a journalist,” Tandoc says. “In this age of information overload, it is vital for people to understand which information is trustworthy and which information is unreliable. It is also important to protect those sources of trustworthy information.”

In an article published in the online edition of the New York University Journal of Legislation and Public Policy, Tandoc and co-author Jonathan Peters, a media lawyer and assistant professor at Dayton University, examine definitions from scholarly texts, legal documents, and membership criteria of professional organizations of journalists to understand how the concept is defined across these domains.

They find that in journalism industry definitions, a recurring theme was employment, or being compensated monetarily for journalistic work. In legal and scholarly definitions, the researchers found a focus on social roles, such as government watchdogs or consumer protectors.

“We believe the definition we compiled is broad enough to include many new, pioneering forms of journalism,” Tandoc says. “However, by the journalism industry referencing employment, this definition excludes many people who engage in new forms of communication, such as unpaid bloggers and citizen journalists who gather, process, and disseminate news and information on matters of public concern—just because they do not derive their primary source of livelihood from their journalistic activities.”

Tandoc says a new definition of who qualifies as a journalist should not only move away from employment, but medium as well.

“It appears that there is a move in the journalism industry to do away with tying the definition to a specific medium. This is definitely a reflection of the changing times, as journalists no longer work for a single medium,” Tandoc adds.

Source: University of Missouri

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