Wednesday, August 20, 2008

josh wolf: real journalist

Josh Wolf, the anarchist-slash- blogger-slash-videographer who did some time in the local pokey for contempt of court for refusing to turn over his videotapes of a G-8 protest in San Francisco's Mission district, has resurfaced. He is now doing time as a reporter for a small daily newspaper in Palo Alto, Calif. What's most interesting to me is not Wolf's reinvention as a mainstream reporter, but the question his case brings up about the evolving definition of journalism -- and what falls under 1st amendment protections -- especially wrt the ever-expanding blog world.

Is there a defining line? Tell me where.... bk


Anonymous said...

Hey, everybody has to make money somehow. I think a lot of people have gotten obsessed with format. It's all gathering information and processing it, when you get right down to it, right? You need to be smart and understand the nature of news. It doesn't matter as much where it runs or how you capture it.

Jack said...

There certainly is a defining line, although it's easy for me to say: I'm a "mainstream media" reporter.

First, that phrase -- and the contempt of what it represents -- sort of drives me nuts. Just because newspaper companies were counting cash for the last 10 years (and refusing to figure out how to make money post-print) doesn't mean that what we do is, or should be, superseded by bloggers.

I'm hoping a federal shield law (which goes to the heart of Wolf's case) can address this, but I think there's a difference here between what a guy with an axe to grind (e.g. "anarchist") with those who make a living on covering a beat in a professional, objective manner.

I'm not saying bloggers can't do this. They can, and they've certainly proven themselves in some regard. But I think there's a clear distinction between a guy on his own, with an agenda, and a news organization of professional reporters. I'm sure someone will criticize that the "MSM" and reporters have an agenda, to which I'll reply: not really. Why? I've seen it get sniffed out rather quickly in American newsrooms; our readers criticize us enough as it is, and any slight whiff of bias will make them demand blood.

The real issue here is the government's power in compelling people to turn over information. That should be a protection to some degree for many folks. But anybody claiming they're a "journalist" goes to the reason why the government doesn't want this shield law in the first place, because anyone can get a free pass when they might not deserve one.

I'm not knocking Wolf's abilities, but I can say this: Not everyone can, or should be, a reporter. Just as it's easy to spot out who a real mechanic is from a guy who tweaks cars and thinks he's a pro, so can the public (hopefully) tell the difference between a beat reporter and someone looking to start trouble with The Man.

Josh said...

Hey Jack,

I question your assetion that there "certainly is a defining line." Take Talking Points Memo, and Willie Brown's column in the Chronicle for example.

Josh Marshall is a perspective-based journalist, but he is definitely a reporter and a trusted source for news.

Willie Brown is so not a journalist that many in the news room have nothing but contempt for the former mayor's column.

Both of these cases fall somewhere in that middle ground you say is really a line.

A federal shield law is needed, but any attempts to narrowly define a journalist in that law would be a serious mistake and go against the language of the First Amendment.