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Are You a Journalist?

Are You a Journalist?

Did you ever really think about the fact that “Journalist” has two completely separate meanings?

American Heritage Dictionary
1. One whose occupation is journalism.
2. One who keeps a journal.

I find this fascinating. Naturally, this is a dichotomy that I’ve been more or less aware of. I knew the job of those reporters on television was “journalist” and I knew that Samual Pepys was a journalist, in that he kept a meticulous daily diary.

But, for some reason, the fact that it’s the same, exact word never really clicked, and now that it has, I’m intrigued.

j0401787.jpgThere’s a lot of similiarity, really. Both kinds of journalists review the day and report important events or notable happenings. They might indulge in comparisons, or random thoughts that tickle the back of their brains. They might jot down specific facts about the day, like in a scientist’s journal, or that of a dieter trying to track calories. They might describe movies they’ve seen, or books they’ve read–or comment on politics and world events.

The main difference, of course, is whether these ponderings are meant for public or private consumption. A person writing down their feelings on the death of a parent as a means of venting their grief usually does not want that read by anyone else. Whereas a writer describing the carnage of a car bomb is definitely writing–no, shouting–for the world to hear.

This used to be so clear-cut. If it was in a notebook, or leather-bound volume sitting on your desk, you were probably one of the “private” journalists, writing just for yourself; if it was being published in a newspaper, or produced on television, you were the “public” kind. There might be some overlap–a professional journalist might certainly also keep a diary of his or her own. Or a person who has been keeping a private journal about their struggles with alcoholism may decide to publish it as a way of spreading moral support for others facing the same problem. Still, as a rule, the difference between the two was pretty clear.

Isn’t it interesting, then, that we now have the Internet, which has blurred lines in countless ways–including this one. Now, we have “Citizen Journalists”–people like me and you who experience events and write about them on our blogs or websites. Sometimes they’re trivial blogs (in the sense that the government doesn’t really care what about the funny thing your cat did last week). Sometimes, they’re being written by real writers who just want to write about their opinions, but still as private citizens. Except this time, instead of keeping it in a book on their desks, they want to share it with the world. Let everybody know what my cat did last week! Let everybody know how I really feel about the government!  Let everybody know how wonderfully relaxing knitting and spinning can be! (Sorry, I had to put that one in there.)

And this, then, opens all sorts of fuzzy, gray areas between the private journalist and the public one … because, suddenly, you’ve got a private citizen publically reporting on actions that normally the official Press would be reporting. Or you’ve got a professional journalist expressing an opinion in a private blog that blows up in his face because people suddenly think he meant it “officially.” Then, too, where does the Freedom of the Press rule fall in all this–does it protect the person who blogged about seeing a crime committed? Does it protect them if they’re sued for defamation? Can it? Should it?

You know, I love the internet, and I love the crazy, connected world we have these days. Instant news, rather than waiting months to get one letter sharing news about a loved one. There’s a new baby in the family? Here! Pictures online within the hour. Your car was totalled in a crash? Show the photos right away on your blog and get instant commiseration. I also love that we can have citizen journalists who can tell us things like what it was really like in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina three years ago. We are insatiable for news, these days, and the more (reliable) sources the better.

But, do you suppose that this is a good thing? Bad? A blend?

I’d really love to hear your opinion on this. The concept of “citizen journalist” is one that I just find fascinating … where DO you draw the line these days? And should you even draw it in the first place?

Ooh–and two interesting bits of news. (Or, well, lucky-break kinds of news, anyway.)1. There was a contest for Blogging Community-Building Tips over at Business & Blogging, and guess who won a $15 gift card to Amazon? Clearly, the winners were chosen by random selection, because while I tried, I wouldn’t say my tip was the best. In fact, I highly recommend you go check out the suggestions, because there are some excellent bits of advice in there. But, in the meantime, I get to go book shopping!2. It was obviously a good week for me, because Liz at the Successful Blog also had a contest–submit a photo-with-caption to describe that “Brand-New Blogger Feeling” and mine was one of the 50 winners picked, netting me a free copy of her e-book. I can’t wait to see the slideshow she makes of all the winners–it’s going to be great.

4 thoughts on “Are You a Journalist?

  1. Joanne

    It’s interesting, but I think we have to be careful. This summer, a “viewer” emailed in to the local tv station a picture of a tornado that touched down locally during heavy thunderstorms. Turns out, there was no tornado! So, authenticity might be an issue.

    Joanne’s last blog post..Going Green

  2. --Deb Post author

    But, that’s exactly the point–just because the word can be used both ways, doesn’t mean that it’s interchangeable. I’m certainly no reporter! I could and would write about something noteworthy that I witnessed, but that by no means makes me a “journalist” in that professional kind of sense. It makes me a WITNESS.

  3. Melissa Donovan

    This is a great question. I have lost all faith in the media to give us objective reporting. I once read an extensive study that showed school shootings are nothing new and that only the media coverage makes them seem like some modern phenomenon. It was an actual study citing all school shootings in the last 100 years.

    On the other hand, I’ve recently discovered that I like watching the election coverage on a station that leans the same way I do. I know it’s biased and I do read and watch the “other side” too, but there’s something comforting about like-minded people telling me what happened today on the campaign trail.

    Anyway, I could go on and on. I will add that on occasion, I’ve wondered about using the word “journalist” to describe a person writing a personal journal. It never really jives for me to use journalist in that context.

    Melissa Donovan’s last blog post..Behind the Scenes: Writing as a Business

  4. Pingback: SOB Business Cafe 09-19-08 - Liz Strauss at Successful Blog - Thinking, writing, business ideas . . . You’re only a stranger once.