When is a journalist not a journalist?

A recent article in The Register (UK) disclosed that the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Judge (actually his surname, not an affectation; you can’t make this stuff up!) has allowed the use of Twitter in courtrooms by journalists without the need for permission, and by non-journalists as permitted by the judge.

The obvious question becomes, “What is a journalist?”

Consider the case of Crystal Cox, a blogger from Montana (US), sued for defamation in her reporting of an attorney’s handling of a particular bankruptcy case. Her defense – that she was a journalist and thereby protected – was thrown out when the judge in her own case decided that a blogger is ~not necessarily~ a journalist.

According to a Boston Globe article (12/8/2011), “Hernandez said Cox was not a journalist because she offered no professional qualifications as a journalist or legitimate news outlet. She had no journalism education, credentials, or affiliation with a recognized news outlet, proof of adhering to journalistic standards such as editing or checking her facts, evidence she produced an independent product, or evidence she ever tried to get both sides of the story.”

Nevertheless Ms. Cox was and is a prominent, well-known and well-followed blogger in her own right (www.crystalcox.com). And of course we must also consider the case of Julian Assange, about whom the media are split into so many camps it’s hard to know which way the wind blows. Salon says he IS a journalist, US News & World Report (and let’s not forget the US Departments of State and Justice) say he’s NOT a journalist, and numerous reporters (among them former NY Times reporter Judy Miller) says he’s a BAD journalist.

Journalism, like many fields, is both blessed and cursed by having no fixed, official and universally accepted standard of inclusion. It is therefore always open to interpretation. When a judge rules, as did Mr. Hernandez, in a particularly narrow way, it temporarily tilts the balance in that direction. But the preponderance of evidence in support of an alternative view will usually cause it to win out in the end, after much wrangling in the courts and in the press itself.

The current battle is anything but won. At least the Lord Chief Justice, if he errs at all, errs on the side of openness. While tweeting can hardly be considered a substitute for reporting, it at least opens the door for persons who are actually observing with their own eyes and ears what is going on in a courtroom to let others know what they are witnessing. Taken with a grain of salt, that seems like a good thing.


Wikileaks’ Julian Assange out for glory

Julian Assange seems incapable of listening or learning. I just can’t believe that this one guy continues to believe that he knows best, and that everybody else who layers their communications in “need to know” levels is somehow wrong. I do it, my boss does it, my mother does it, my son does it. What about this does Mr. Assange not get? His gross abuse of confidential information costs enormous amounts of time and effort on the part of the true government officials that we have elected and selected to carry out the tasks of our highest level societal interactions. And in so doing it costs enormous amounts of taxpayer dollars to try to scramble and recover some “face” after this breach. Why is he still free to do so? He, along with those who are passing him this information, should be arrested and tried for treason.

In saying this, do I believe that the USA is the greatest country on earth, that our diplomats are above reproach, that Mr. Assange is obviously wrong because he is attacking our government? Get real! Nothing of the sort!

But seriously, I’m curious to know from those who are going out of their way to decry the American government and to assert that the USA is not the “greatest place in the world”: what IS the greatest place? I think it’s all too easy to get caught up in fantasy imaginings of faraway lands, where “if I were the ruler of the world” thinking solves all the problems in a convenient and obvious way. But seriously, where is this place, what country, what state are you thinking of where they’ve got it right? Where there are no government secrets? Where each and every member of the government is a respected individual, a good communicator on all levels, able to discern real fact from possibly misguided conjecture, and all members work together for the greater good? I will go there in a heartbeat! For now, I’ll take my lumps in the Big Apple.