Get me rewrite

The concept of “journalist” needs some examination.

These are people who used to be called “reporters”, a term which has the merit of describing what they actually do, or are supposed to do, anyway: namely, find stuff out and report it.

But as usual, we get title inflation, so something called “journalism” is invented. And as usual, it becomes credentiallized and professionalized. Columbia University (“the Octopus”, as we neighbors call it) has a School of Journalism, and no doubt other diploma mills have one too.

Now terms ending in “-ism” generally denote religions (Buddhism) or ideologies (Communism) or practices (Onanism) or medical conditions (Daltonism). Which of these is “journalism”? Somebody who worships journals, or believes in journals, or does journalling, or suffers from it?

For that matter, what’s journalling? I mean, if it’s not just reporting?

There’s a good deal of argument about who’s a “journalist” and who isn’t. Assange is, or isn’t, depending on who you ask. Ditto Greenwald and Taibbi. Everybody seems to agree that ole Marse Tom Friedman is a journalist, though, and everybody agrees that Woodward and Bernstein were the patron saints of the guild. (By contrast, it’s a bit easier to know who’s a reporter: Does he report things?)

Which brings us to the question: Why is it important to know who’s a journalist and who isn’t? Are journalists allowed to do things others aren’t, the way people with a driver’s license can legally drive a car and people without can’t? Are journalists subject to some Hippocratic code? If so, it’s hard to know what its rules are. Assange, for example, was attacked for not selecting and redacting material, and Taibbi is being attacked for the opposite. Woodward and Bernstein had sources they wouldn’t disclose, and this is thought to be praiseworthy, or at least OK, though it seems a bit sketchy to me; but Taibbi, who has been quite open about how he got the stuff he’s reporting, is excoriated for depending on a known source.

So it would appear that a journalist is a reporter you like, and a non-journalist is a reporter you don’t.

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