The line between journalists and citizens has been challenged ever since the distinction between the two was meaningful. A defining line between the two has never been established, though parties have always tried. However, the inability of legislature to describe the difference in a meaningful (read: not “I know it when I see it”) fashion is not simply a failure of judges or politicians. Instead, it is a failure in the understanding of journalism.
Journalism is not just an occupation. If pursuing journalism were simply an occupation, like plumbing or chemistry, institutions of journalism would be far more rigorous with requiring credentials. In most occupations, working that job without the proper credentials is unproductive, if not downright dangerous – an untrained electrician could hurt themselves or burn down a house. Journalism, however, does not carry the same risks – some of the most important journalism has come from completely untrained sources, such as in Iran’s Green movement and Ida B. Wells.
It is a duty, and like most duties, the best should be paid to do it but everyone should be capable of it. It is unrealistic to expect everyone to do so, but the proliferation of social media and camera-enabled phones has given everyone the capability to step up. The concerns of making sure “those who shouldn’t be protected,” as Sen. Charles Schumer says, do not begin to approach the importance of protecting journalism. To his credit, he does recognize “there are people who write and do real journalism, in different ways than we’re used to.”
As technological progress increases and the flow of information hastens, journalism will continue to expand and take forms we can hardly understand. The concern should not be in protecting journalists and distinguishing them from snoopers and rabble-rousers. The concern should be in protecting journalism, in all forms, from any source.