One of the great things about Coturnix is that he brings two context-broadening tools to the table in any discussion: Synchronic and diachronic. In a recent post (Am I a Science Journalist? he adds the diachronic. I had not previously realized or considered (or at lest, not thought it relevant) that early science journalists were not trained in journalism school, as has been the case recently. Recognizing this serves to place the professionalized (read “fetishied”) version of journalism in a different light, and weakens models of modern practice that rely on potentially constraining standards.
Read Bora’s post for a very interesting view of the issue. Here, I just want to add a couple of personal observations to cloud/clarify the waters a bit. But first, this: In Bora’s initial definitions, I wonder if it would be useful to add “teacher” as a category of both provider (as a teacher) and consumer (as someone learning the stuff to teach). Actually, I think it would be just plain important to add “teacher” to the mix. Maybe in Post 2.1.
Anyway, here are a couple of observations:
As have many science bloggers, I’ve dealt with provider institutions (the press-offices, or press-officers thereof) a number of times. I had a recent encounter that was somewhat interesting. I contacted the press office of a major institution because I was going to write something on a thing they were doing, and thought that would be a good source of info. (That turned out to be true.) During the interaction back and forth, it became clear to me that the press officer was thinking that I was a journalist, as in a science writer working for a press outlet. That was not correct, and in fact, there were reasons that I’d prefer to be thought of, in this case, as an academic. On the other hands, academics may be less likely to receive free “press access” to certain resources. It then became clear to me that if I tilted the press officer’s perception of me in either direction, I would be both telling a truth (because both are true) and telling a lie (because either way, I’d benefit by NOT being thought of as a member of the other category). So, in an effort to disclose, as well as to pass on the responsibility of the decision as to what privilages I should be granted to the granter in an open manner, I wrote the following:
I should clarify, as things can be confusing in this modern webby world. I am not a member of the press. I am a professional blogger, and a writer, but I am also a certified PhD holding … Anthropologist. Some people think of bloggers as journalists. I don’t mind getting journalistic privileges sometimes … but I never took a journalism course in my life.
I am a scholar, and a writer, and I approach this exhibit as a scholar/writer. Who has a blog. …
That may not clarify, but I hope it informs!
The press officer ignored this missive and provided me with the access and privileges that would be afforded to both a member of the press and an academic.
I don’t really want to analyze or comment on the above. I’m just providing this information to indicate how the contemporary situation can be a little bit twisty.
About a year ago, I was volunteering for a political candidate doing certain activities. At one point, I was asked to withdraw from those activities because I was a journalist, and they had just (very justifiably) made a rule: No journalists. I explained to my main contact person that I was a blogger, not a journalist. She explained “I know. But blogger = journalist right now, so you’re a journalist.” And by “right now” I understood her to mean in the heat of the moment, as things were moving quickly and great things were at stake, and lawyers and professional political organizers were making last second decisions and trying to avoid screwing up.
Subsequently, I’ve had similar discussions with politicos. I am explicitly not a political journalist, and would prefer to not think of my self as anything like a journalist when it comes to politics, using the current contemporary definition, or Bora’s better contextualized definition. I assume a “reporter” would have an obligation to “report” things that I, as an activist, may come across and realize, as an activist, that it would be better to not report. By this I mean strategic factors, not illegal or inappropriate activities. In politics, everyone pretty much knows what everyone else is doing in broad brush strokes, but the details can be important and are often better left unbroadcast.
So, although I’m willing to be a “science journalist” if Bora wants me to think of myself that way (but with some reservations that have mainly to do with the “teacher” missing from the equation, and the importance to me of political activism even in science) I don’t ever want to be a political “journalist” … I’d prefer to remain a partisan, and that is not so compatible with journalism.