Its up to you

There was an incident recently in the US, where a respected journalist, a documentary maker, was arrested on the request of a republican politician for refusing to leave a public hearing. Whereas there is much worthy of debate in this incident, I was more intrigued by the comments threads that surfaced on a couple of web forums where I lurk and very occasionally contribute.

Specifically the meme that I found most interesting was the apologist “but he wasn’t a real journalist, so therefore he didn’t have a right to film” line which simply sought to justify the situation through an explanation of administrative oversight, his arrest inevitable when he was non-compliant with the request to leave a public hearing.

For me, it is simple, today, anyone who can record an event for posterity, is a journalist.

There is maybe an omission regarding the availability of a distribution mechanism in that definition but today with internet access very much the norm, not the exception, anyone wishing to distribute their reportage can do so.

So, is every teenagers’ diary an act of journalism? Well, certainly not if it is painstakingly written each night into a secret locked diary for a viewing audience of precisely one. But there are some circumstances where a teenagers diary should / could be considered journalism. It shouldn’t be a shock, we are comfortable with all sorts of diaries being published in national / regional papers and magazines. Animal diaries, sailor’s diaries, farmer’s diaries , sportsmen and women’s, etc. The line is a little blurry to be fair. Teen angst becomes journalism in only very specific situations.

Fortunately there is a much more important concept, other than function, that is fundamental and very clear in terms of defining what is and is not journalism, and it goes to the very heart of free speech and democratic process.

It is this. The government, or any controlling body for that matter, cannot and does not have the right to designate who is and who is not a journalist. To imbue the government with the right to designate journalistic credential is to deny a free press. What follows from this, is that anyone, absolutely anyone can be journalist, it is simply a matter of choice on their part, whether to distribute at all, and if so how they choose to distribute their writing.

In the example I gave earlier, there is a standard requirement for accreditation at public hearings in Washington and the journalist in question had failed to get such a permit. Historically, convention has it that in these circumstances a permit can be sorted there and then, space permitting. This was not what happened in this instance, where there was no problem with available space. The political outrage around this incident actually being focussed on this departure from normal convention, not the breach of accreditation. This is because the accreditation requirement is purely functional, and to prevent 400 film crews attending where maybe 5 or 6 can do it and share footage (a system that apparently functions very well by informal consensus amongst competitors). In short, the accreditation is not a denial of journalistic status, but a system of administration designed to make things function well for all involved.

So, now cut to Monday morning. I’m reviewing what’s what via my regular web surf. Yesterday was Wales’s first game in this year’s 6 Nations, against the Irish. A tense, competitive game which we won (Wales) with a last gasp penalty 23 -21. So, really I was revelling in it a little. Looking all over the place for views and information about the game.

I spend a lot of time in scrumv.co.uk, a Welsh rugby forum, my main source of rugby news. The key posters in that forum, men and women whose identities I know only through the nicknames they signed up with, are involved root and branch with the game in Wales. These are the guys who coach 10 year olds every weekend, who hoard all the stats from player performance to crowd attendance, who have jobs and voluntary roles at the smaller local clubs and some of them at the regions. In short it’s a melting pot of people passionate about welsh rugby.

But this morning I started with the BBC report. Then I read the guardian report. Happy that we were getting sufficient plaudits I decided to check the Irish press. RTE online and the Irish Times. They made a little more of the controversial referee, but quite frankly that makes sense, and overall I thought they offered a very balanced view of the game.

Next stop was the Welsh forum. This is where I expect to find the details, where people will seek out and present the actual written laws where there is controversy, will dissect the individual contributions of key players, offer detailed and conversational analysis of both tactical and strategic game issues. In short this is where I expect to get most of my detail. There was a thread on the contribution of the debutantes, the controversial spear tackles, the next game, selections for the next game, an update on injuries, positive take outs, negative take outs, the management and the captain. Each of those threads showcasing contrasting and supportive viewpoints.

Because of the controversy I thought I’d check an Irish fans forum. So, via google to munsterfans.com to see what they thought. Had they been robbed? Were they upset, was it a big old stink. And it wasn’t, they were much more concerned with other failings of their team.

Finally I looked up IC Wales, the Western Mail’s website, to watch the after match interviews and to enjoy a little patriotic triumphalism.

All that took maybe an hour. It was slightly indulgent.

The point, however, is more important than simply the best way to catch up on a rugby match. The point is that what I just described is how news can be gathered in today’s society. I chose a rugby match as an example, but any issue that can be considered national news could be approached in a similar fashion. This is modern news consumption, if you want. Of course, it’s not compulsory.

Contrast this with the assertion, of the aforesaid Washington apologists, that the documentary maker’s arrest was justified because he wasn’t a journalist. Now we can ridicule that perspective both as an article of a free society, as I mentioned previously, and as a simple idiocy. Any day of the week almost any country in the world you will find fans watching sport and then dissecting it afterwards in their forums. And they are all journalists. Every single one of them.

Somewhere along the way journalism got a lot bigger than it used to be. That change didn’t come without some kind of loss though. What we have lost is a certain type of trust. We still seek out authoritative sources, as we move through life, its just that they no longer need to live around the corner from you, to feel as if they are local.

An island with a new bridge and a new causeway changes within itself. People on islands rely on each other, for sure, but when you can get on and off 24/7, not so much.  As we expand the personal reach of our communications, we don’t maintain equilibrium, trust in the local realm suffers.

Journalism isn’t hurting, not in itself, it’s growing and it’s becoming richer and deeper. It’s just that YOU need to do your part nowadays. It’s all there for you, served up on a plate. But you have to decide to find it and read it and assess it for yourself.

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