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Am I a Member of the Press? September 10, 2007

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in blog thing, General.
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Or are you?  Or is any blogger?

Darren at The Common Sense Gamer is on his “big question” horse again.  Today he wants to know if bloggers are members of the press.

My answer is simple yet obtuse.  You are a member of the press if you want to be.

Seriously.

I cannot come up with any universal litmus test that will determine if you are a member of that nebulous body we call “the press.”

There are lots of possible criteria that people throw around, but all of them are crap.  Some popular ones:

You get paid to write.  No, that makes you a professional writer, or perhaps just a good writer, but that does not bestow upon you some magical “press” attribute.

You work for an organization that is part of “the press.”  This begs the question.  What organizations are part of the press?  There was a time when television news was not considered to be part of “the press” by newpapers.  That did not make it so.

You have a degree in journalism.  A typical cliquish answer. A lot of people who are clearly in the press do not have such a qualification.  Try Samuel Clemens.

You focus on reporting just news and facts.  Bah! Much of the press is nothing but commentary.

You meet a certain standards of quality.  Read an article in your local paper about something with which you are intimately familiar.  Count the mistakes made by the reporter.  Imagine now that a similar number of mistakes occur in every story you read.  Compare this to the size of the tiny “corrections” column printed daily. Cringe in horror.

People at X event will give you a press pass.  Dear Lord, do we want event organizers determining who is a member of the press?  Besides which I am sure you can find examples of accredited members of the mainstream press not getting access to every event they desire.  Do you suppose people from the Mountain View Voice get full access press passes to GDC on demand?

So, having thought this through a bit, I defy anybody to come up with some sort of criteria that determines who is in the press and who is not that can be tested and confirmed.  I do not think there is any hard test which would separate me from Eric Sevareid that would not also exclude people we would all agree are members of the press.

As far as I can tell, the only thing that makes you a member of the press is that you believe you are and act like you are. 

People may challenge that belief.  Some may say that you are not very good or not objective.  Some may question you qualifications. 

But only you can disprove your belief.

And, to answer the title of this entry, no, I am not a member of the press.

But only because I say I am not.

Comments»

1. darrenl - September 10, 2007

My question horse is pink…with a bow on it too

:)

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2. Elf - September 10, 2007

I’m not convinced Samuel Clemens is a member of the press any more.

Perhaps a more pertinent question to ask is “Am I a Journalist?”

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3. Wilhelm2451 - September 11, 2007

An interesting read, but another somewhat exclusionary view of the concept of “the press.” Held to those standards, you could make a long list of people who we would probably agree are part of the press, but who do not meet that criteria.

Go score Walter Winchell on the list of characteristics within the post and see how he fits in, then come back and tell me he wasn’t a journalist.

No, that list is a set of ideals, something to inspire young men and women who want to study the craft of journalism, not a checklist by which you determine your status vis-a-vis “the press.”

A lot of the arguments I see are akin to saying you cannot be a programmer unless you have a degree in computer science. Yet the most brilliant programmer I ever met had an undergraduate degree in music and taught himself to program while doing his graduate studies.

But in the end, if I spent the money to set up a newspaper in a small town and wrote “around town” articles analogous to what I write about gaming, and ended up with a readership of similar size, I would be a member of the press. I think it is merely the accessibility that throws people. If something is easy enough that anybody with a computer can do it, then it must not have value. (Or it threatens the value of my J-school degree.)

How about a little reversal of views? If a member of the “legitimate” press writes a blog, is he or she really just a blogger at that point?

As for Samuel Clemens, his influence is felt even today in the press, so he gets a pass on merely being dead. Eric Sevareid as well.

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4. Bildo - September 11, 2007

I’m a member of the press. But only because I work for IGN’s Vault Network. Not because of my blog.

Most blogs are editorial columns, and while that can be categorized as press-level work, most bloggers are not paid, are not sanctioned, are not active members of the media, etc. We’re just people on soap boxes.

Just my opinion of course.

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5. Wilhelm2451 - September 11, 2007

I would disagree that pay is a necessary prerequisite. Given how poorly most members of the press are paid, I could not see that as a motivator. You might use it as a divider between, say, professional and amateur, as we do in other fields.

Sanction smacks of control over the notion of press by a specific, definable group. I must reject that notion completely if I am to believe there is such a thing as freedom of the press.

Active member of the media? You mean, besides writing, broadcasting, or whatever is appropriate to your medium? You mean I have to join the local press club and go to their crappy events? I’ve been there. I don’t drink enough, I don’t know enough dirty jokes, and I don’t even dress well enough, which is saying something.

I have to stick with my own opinion, which is you are a member of the press if you believe you are and behave accordingly. That there is no pay involved and that the medium is a blog is irrelevant.

But I will agree that merely having a blog does not make you a member of the press.

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6. Elf - September 11, 2007

How about a little reversal of views? If a member of the “legitimate” press writes a blog, is he or she really just a blogger at that point?

If a journalist writes a shopping list, is that journalism? Is everyone with a Flickr account a photo journalist? Content and intention must play a part, at the very least. But it is confusing to state that you believe someone is a member of the press if they ‘behave accordingly’, whilst also deyfing anybody ‘to come up with some sort of criteria that determines who is in the press and who is not that can be tested and confirmed’. If there are no defining characteristics, there is no way to behave according to them.

You may well have examples of people who are journalists or programmers who don’t have formal qualifications, but that’s because some people are extremely clever and talented. There will always be people who do not fit a mould, but that doesn’t mean the mould is useless. For the rest of us mere mortals, gauging our level of expertise or competence based on real-life experiences or education is an important factor that can give others confidence in what we can realistically achieve, and can trust what we produce as being reasonable. There may be some brilliant programmers out there with no formal education, but they may have a tough time getting interviews without qualifications simply because a company would be foolish to accept anyone who applied and hoped for the best that they found someone competent.

If people highly experienced in journalism and who have studied the field of journalism create criteria for how a journalist should behave, then I consider that to be a valid appeal to authority and would trust their judgement. If a blogger, or anyone else, meets those criteria, then they could reasonably call themselves a journalist.

I think the whole situation is muddied by the lack of proper journalism in the past decade or so. If mainstream newspapers are more inclined to print sensationalist claptrap and celebrity gossip and parade it as news then perhaps it is no surprise that any idiot who can work a browser thinks he too is a journalist for mouthing off an opinion on any subject.

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7. Wilhelm2451 - September 11, 2007

What I am saying is that “behaving accordingly” is different for different people, even those with degrees in journalism. It is an internal process that can be very hard to express but defines why somebody got into journalism. Some seed within that says, “I want to inform!”

If I start today and say “I will be a gaming journalist” and take it seriously, work hard, and try to adhere consistently to my own internal philosophy, then who is to say I am not? I may not be very good at it. My output might be crap. I may be writing for a tiny niche of a community. But I do not think any of those are a determination of my status as a member of the press. If you are going to exclude bloggers out of hand due to any arbitrary set of rules, a lot of members of the so-called legitimate press will have to go with them.

As for the value of a J-school degree or being in a well known publication, that is certainly something that helps THE CONSUMER judge what they read. It is a good indicator of the quality you can expect, but it is in no way an exclusive indicator of who is press and who is not. As with the self-taut programmer, it is not at all a reflection of his ability or status as a programmer.

When Dean Takahashi of the San Jose Mercury says Mario Party 8 is a lot of fun, sales go up because people believe him. He has established credibility through his work and position. When somebody using a pseudonym on a free blog site says it is fun, that might just be a data point in your research. You may find over time that that blogger has credibility as well, maybe even more because their point of view is more closely aligned to you than Dean’s. But you cannot be sure up front. That does not determine either way whether said blogger is a member of the press at large.

And, finally, on the lack of proper journalism today, versus any other period of time, I do not buy that at all. There has always been a continuum of quality when it comes to reporting. I brought up Walter Winchell in a previous comment for a reason. Does “Dewey Defeats Truman” ring any bells as well when it comes to journalism gone awry? You can go back to the Hearst papers and yellow journalism as well, a time when the fight to sell papers through sensationalistic reporting was at a peak well beyond anything we see today. Even that illustration of the Boston massacre we (in the US) all saw in our school text books as kids was a stilted representation of an event meant to evoke an outraged reaction. Fox News wouldn’t run something that inflammatory. We are no worse off today, and I would argue we are better off when it comes to the media because we have immediate access to so many alternate sources

So, back to my prime point, to respond to Darren’s question, the medium in which you communicate does not determine your status as a member of the press. The fact that most bloggers do not aspire to that status is immaterial.

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8. Elf - September 12, 2007

I’ll answer the question directly as well:

Who cares?

To be more delicate, and more to the point, why does it matter? What is driving the question in the first place? There is no context in which the question is asked, no motive for finding out the answer beyong being able to apply a label to oneself.

If it were a serious blogger asking the question because he is consistently finding himself excluded from press events I could understand where the question is coming from, but there is no underlying question here.

So, who cares? Why is this important?

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9. Wilhelm2451 - September 12, 2007

Oh dear me, if something has to actually be important to be worth discussion then this blog is going to get awfully quiet.

Actually, in a big sense, this is important. Not because of the status of blogs, but because of some opinions I see people expressing about what makes somebody a member of the press.

When educated people are saying that you’re only a member of the press if you get paid for it, or if you get press passes to events, or if you work for some specific set of organizations, and are only guaranteed the protection afforded the press if you meet these arbitrary criteria, then I see the death of anything like a “free press” on the horizon. Things like that are a foot in the door towards limiting, regulating, and controlling the press.

And woe to us all on the day that comes to pass.

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10. Elf - September 12, 2007

Well, there you go, you answered my question without realising it. This is important because of the ‘protection afforded the press’. If journalistic bloggers start to get threatened legally, for whatever reason, it would be vital to be able to assert such protections, which can only be done if certain bloggers really were considered part of the press. It is also worthy to resolve this before it becomes necessary to do so.

I only asked why the question was important because I couldn’t find anywhere that gave a solid reason for wanting to make the distinction between press and blog. The linked article was pretty vapid, to be frank. It seemed to me that some people just want to inflate their egos by giving themselves a label more historically significant than that of ‘blogger’, just for the sake of it. I’d rather enjoy reading more anecdotes or discussion about gaming.

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11. Bildo - September 12, 2007

Let me lighten up the conversation.

Three little ducks go into a Bar…………………………

“Say, what’s your name?” the bartender asked the first duck.

“Huey,” was the reply.

“How’s your day been, Huey?”

“Great. Lovely day. Had a ball. Been in and out of puddles all day. What else could a duck want?” said Huey.

“Oh. That’s nice,” said the bartender. He turned to the second duck, “Hi, and what’s your name?”

“Dewey,” came the answer from duck number two.

“So how’s your day been, Dewey! ?” he asked.

“Great. Lovely day. I’ve had a ball too. Been in and out of puddles all day myself. What else could a duck want?”

The bartender turned to the third duck and said, “So, you must be Louie?”

“No,” she said, batting her eyelashes.

“My name is Puddles.”

Yes that’s dumb. Yes I’m dumb. But I guffawed when I read it.

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