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Saturday, June 11, 2005

Are Athletes Hockey Players?

Posted by Bob Brigham

I'm serious, are athletes hockey players? Some of you might wonder how how a subset could equal the full set. By definition, it is a logically challenged question. Sure some athletes are hockey players, but if you ask someboy, "Are athletes hockey players?" the person being quizzed is going to wonder if there is a language barrier or if you're just a complete idiot.

Here's similar question: Are Bloggers Journalists?

The correct answer is: Are you fucking stupid or do you just have a poor command of the English language?

Considering that most of the people who have posed this question are accomplished writers, the former tends to be the reason why such a question would be considered.

The reason this keeps coming up is because self-obsessed journalists pose it in act of wankery when wondering whether bloggers should have First Amendment protection, like journalists.

My logic professor would have lost his temper by now if he was following this examination of sets and subsets. You see, the First Amendment never mentions the word "journalist" or "journalism" -- not once. What it does mention is the word "press" -- of which journalism is a subset, but again by definition, not the entire set.

The First Amendment protects journalists, not because they are journalists, but because they work for publications that enjoy freedom from Congress "abridging" their rights as press.

The idea that Freedom of the Press would only apply to "journalists" would certainly entertain the Founding Fathers at least as much as the premise of the discussion over bloggers as journalists would enrage a logic professor.

The "press" of that era were not journalists, actually far from it. MIAMI HERALD PUBLISHING CO. v. TORNILLO, 418 U.S. 241 (1974) reminds us of the "press" in 1791:

While many of the newspapers were intensely partisan and narrow in their views, the press collectively presented a broad range of opinions to readers. Entry into publishing was inexpensive; pamphlets and books provided meaningful alternatives to the organized press for the expression of unpopular ideas and often treated events and expressed views not covered by conventional newspapers. A true marketplace of ideas existed in which there was relatively easy access to the channels of communication.

That sounds a helluva a lot more like the blogosphere than modern journalism. In fact, it is important to remember that without something very similar to a blog, we probably wouldn't have our Constitution or the Bill of Rights in the first place.

Four years earlier, in 1787, three guys started what we would now call a "group blog" and wrote under the handle or screen name, "Publius". This guys weren't journalists, they were political thinkers who were pushing quite a political agenda. Their blog was called the Federalist or Federalist Papers and it was printed as a pamphlet and picked up by some of the New York newspapers. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote under a group pen name to push a political agenda. They were successful in the mission of their blog and our Constitution was ratified.

If you go to our government's website, you'll find this:

In lobbying for adoption of the Constitution over the existing Articles of Confederation, the essays explain particular provisions of the Constitution in detail. For this reason, and because Hamilton and Madison were each members of the Constitutional Convention, the Federalist Papers are often used today to help interpret the intentions of those drafting the Constitution.

Back to the timeline, the Federalist began four years before the 1st Amendment. When the First Amendment was written and ratified, the "press" of the day consisted of pre-computer bloggers like Publius, partisan newspapers, pamphlets and books. This is what our Founding Fathers wanted the First Amendment to protect -- not just journalists.

Unfortunately, there was a trend during most of the last century that hurt the marketplace of ideas protected by the First Amendment. Again from MIAMI HERALD PUBLISHING CO. v. TORNILLO, 418 U.S. 241 (1974):

Access advocates submit that although newspapers of the present are superficially similar to those of 1791 the press of today is in reality very different from that known in the early years of our national existence. In the past half century a communications revolution has seen the introduction of radio and television into our lives, the promise of a global community through the [418 U.S. 241, 249] use of communications satellites, and the specter of a "wired" nation by means of an expanding cable television network with two-way capabilities. The printed press, it is said, has not escaped the effects of this revolution. Newspapers have become big business and there are far fewer of them to serve a larger literate population. Chains of newspapers, national newspapers, national wire and news services, and one-newspaper towns, are the dominant features of a press that has become noncompetitive and enormously powerful and influential in its capacity to manipulate popular opinion and change the course of events. Major metropolitan newspapers have collaborated to establish news services national in scope. Such national news organizations provide syndicated "interpretive reporting" as well as syndicated features and commentary, all of which can serve as part of the new school of "advocacy journalism."

The elimination of competing newspapers in most of our large cities, and the concentration of control of media that results from the only newspaper's being owned by the same interests which own a television station and a radio station, are important components of this trend toward [418 U.S. 241, 250] concentration of control of outlets to inform the public.

The result of these vast changes has been to place in a few hands the power to inform the American people and shape public opinion.

A lot has changed since the Supreme Court used this 1974 ruling to uphold that the First Amendment mandates freedom, not journalistic responsibility. There is once again ease of access into the marketplace of ideas, fresh voices, and few barriers.

Freedom of the Press isn't about journalism, as Publius showed in using a blogger-styled campaign to ratify our Constitution. It is important to note that such freedom was not taken lightly by these men. It had only been 50 years since John Peter Zenger was aquited in a important case that set forth truth as a defense to libel.

And within a decade of the First Amendment, politicians used the Alien and Sedition Acts to jail those criticizing politicians. Thomas Jefferson pardoned those convicted under the acts and preserved our Freedom of the Press.

In the two centuries since then, there have been countless attempts to curtail Freedom of the Press. The attempts to regulate bloggers are only the latest chapter.

I thought about this on the way home from a blogger event held by KRON 4 News. The handout said:

We're beginning to understand the importance of the blogosphere, and that's why you're here. We want to listen. You're the innovators in the personal media revolution, and we want to join in the conversation.

I needed to take some pics while the sun was at a certain angle, so I wasn't able to stay long. As I walked to get my shots, I thought about the effort the journalists at KRON were making and was pleasantly surprised that instead of acting defensively, they invited us over.

But my pleasant mindset didn't last long as I grabbed a copy of the Bay Guardian as I hopped on a bus and read the following announcement:

Are bloggers journalists?
Tuesday, June 14, discuss the impact blogging has on journalism, at an event put on by the Society of Professional Journalists. Panelists include bloggers Jean Chen of Pop and Politics, Chris Nolan of Politics from Left to Right, and David Pescovitz of BoingBoing. 6-8 p.m., London Wine Bar, 415 Sansome

I visited the Society of Professional Journalists website for more information:

The advent of blogs as disseminators of news has led many to question if it is wise and appropriate to treat bloggers as journalists and accord them the rights and privileges accorded to journalists in more established media.

First of all, blogs do a helluva a lot more than disseminate news (again, back to the whole set vs. subset issue).

Next, "many" people aren't questioning the bloggers as journalists. Some defensive journalists, but that is about it.

Finally, the rights accorded journalists are granted as members of the press, not as journalists. The "privileges" accorded journalists would be better left to a panel on journalism and conflicts of interest.

Publius had far more in common with today's bloggers than with today's journalists, but the First Amendment sought to protect both by providing Freedom of the Press.

Next time the Society of Professional Journalists needs a panel discussion, I recommend: Are Journalists Journalists? I would actually show up for such a discussion on the likes of Brit Hume, Judith Miller, Jeff Gannon, Daniel Okrent, Jayson Blair, Chris Nolan, Bob Novak, Charlie Hurt, Daryn Kagan, the Christian Broadcasting Network and of course, anyone who has ever worked for the Washington Times or Fox News.

I know some journalists are nervous about the changing marketplace. But good journalists have far more to fear from their peers than from bloggers.

Posted at 04:52 PM in Netroots | Technorati