You'd think Mr. Smith, who is currently managing editor of State Legislatures magazine, would side with mainstream journalists, but he looks at the issue in practical terms, and he concludes that there never has been, nor will there ever be, a definition of "journalist". He contends that there is no licensing or board testing involved, and that's the way reporters and editors want it. In the end, journalism is not a profession, but a craft, he writes.
Smith's observation is that a younger generation of reporters find the question moot. They may be hired as a reporter, but chances are they are also being asked to blog, tweet, and take pictures too while they're at it. Accuracy and ethics will always be issues, but defining journalists is headed for the recycling bin.
For further reading, Smith points to an article in the Columbia Journalism Review - The Bigger Tent by Ann Cooper. Cooper's question is Forget Who is a journalist; the important question is, What is journalism? It's an excellent piece for anyone interested in figuring out who belongs under the Big Tent of Journalism. Here's an excerpt:
Access Soon after former radio and wire-service journalist Jim Van Dongen became a spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Safety in 2003, he found himself confronted with press-pass applications from unpaid Internet bloggers and community-radio talk-show hosts. His first reaction: they’re not “legitimate” journalists. His second reaction: we need a definition of who is.
It was Van Dongen’s third reaction that was surprising. After trying out different criteria—journalists write for pay; they do original reporting, not just opinion writing—Van Dongen concluded that none of the criteria worked. In today’s digital world, he says, “essentially, anybody who says he’s a journalist is one.” So this past January, Van Dongen’s office announced that it would no longer issue press passes. “Either we must issue such ID to virtually anyone who asks for it or be placed in the position of deciding who is or is not a legitimate journalist. That is not an appropriate role for a state agency,” the department said in a January 15 news advisory. Though stunning in its symbolism, the New Hampshire decision didn’t have much practical effect; Safety Department press passes were rarely needed, except for access to the state legislature floor.
Nor have other institutions rushed to copy Van Dongen’s response to the credentialing dilemma. In institutional worlds such as government, politics, and business, many in charge of press operations still cast a wary eye at requests from outside mainstream media. It’s not that they’re inundated with applicants; many institutions say blogger requests are still something of a novelty. But they’re not at all sure what to do with someone who doesn’t look like a traditional journalist. Last January, for example, the retail chain Target e-mailed blogger Amy Jussel to say it wouldn’t answer her questions about its ad campaigns because “Target does not participate with non-traditional media outlets.” Meanwhile, the New York Civil Liberties Union went to court in February to force the release of all recent New York Police Department decisions on press-pass requests; the action is aimed at determining whether, as some independent online writers claim, the NYPD denies cards to applicants who don’t work in the journalistic mainstream.