There is an old joke about a shark refusing to eat a lawyer in the sea because of professional courtesy. In not all cases do we find professional courtesy that is granted where we might expect it to be. For example, I once researched traveling to Nauru as a lovely and obscure little island and found that while they had very modest visa charges for ordinary people, their charge for journalists was ten times more expensive, largely because of negative publicity that the island nation had received for hosting illegal immigrants caught attempting to enter Australia. This led me to ponder the question of whether I count as a journalist.
This is by no means an idle sort of wondering. Journalists are–rightly–among the most reviled professionals in our contemporary world. They both seek a great deal of power over shaping and framing the understanding of everything to everyone, but do so without a great deal of background knowledge, high degrees of professional integrity, or any sort of self-awareness as to how their view of themselves clashes with both reality and how others view them. Over and over again we find that contemporary journalists frequently engage in ethical violations involving conflict of interests of being either in bed with or dangerously hostile to the people and institutions that they are reporting on. They both attempt to control what is and what is not considered to be genuine reportage or alternatively misinformation while being actively involved in slanting and misreporting on stories for personal or political benefit.
If we look at the definition of a journalist, the definitions can get uncomfortably close, especially since one of the synonyms listed for journalist is a blogger, which would definitely include yours truly. On the minor side, a journalist can simply be someone who records observations and reflections in a journal. Getting more restrictive, it includes anyone who writes or prepares information with the intent of reaching a wide audience. Both of these definitions of a journalist would certainly include me, both for good and for ill. It is only in the narrowest definition of a journalist as being someone who professional writes or reports on news for a particular news medium that I would not qualify. And even here, I would probably be considered a freelance journalist in many respects as I have repeatedly written for magazines even if it is not my profession.
To what extent does this matter, aside from making my potential travels to remote and beautiful Pacific islands considerably more expensive? It may certainly matter to me that people may view me as suspect simply as a writer. It has taken considerable time and effort for me to hone my skills in written expression, and to have those skills make me automatically suspect because of the behavior of others who have similarly misused such skills as they possess in that area as well is deeply irritating. But in the larger sense, are there any sorts of rights and responsibilities that I have as a writer that differ from others? It is a trivially easy thing to identify as a writer–people do it all the time who have written far less and far less frequently than I do, but what weight does such an identity claim? I suppose we can find out what repercussions follow the general corruption of the field of journalism? I cannot imagine such consequences will be pleasant or enjoyable until or unless there is some sort of moral reformation in the field. Thy kingdom come.