We're All Journalists Now / by Karie Luidens

My review of...

We’re All Journalists Now: The Transformation of the Press and Reshaping of the Law in the Internet Age
Scott Gant
Free Press, 2007
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Scott Gant wants you to know that you’re a journalist. Or at least, you’re free to become one at any time—not by earning a certain degree or securing a job at the right institution, but by engaging in journalistic activities. Simple as that.

Well, it’s never that simple for lawyers, is it? And Gant is a practicing attorney who graduated from Harvard Law, so he’s going to explore the issue with two hundred pages of case studies if you don’t mind.

Along the way he makes some excellent points about the problematically vague legal definitions, judicial interpretations, and de facto treatment of would-be journalists in the U.S. over the last century. Does the First Amendment’s “freedom of the press” clause apply to all citizens or to a professional class? Does government distribution of press passes in certain contexts amount to the sort of exclusive licensing that the Founding Fathers sought to avoid? How will the mishmash of local, state, and federal definitions of “journalist” cope with the surge of amateur and freelance reporters springing up online in the 21st century? In Gant’s opinion, these questions need contemporary Supreme Court attention and a clear federal shield law that defines journalism not as a profession but as a practice.

Unfortunately for most of us and our post-blogosphere attention spans, his gem insights are scattered in an extensive rough of dry technical analysis. The book reads more like a secondary source for a Law 101 student’s term paper than the broadly relatable writing of authors like Malcolm Gladwell. I find the issues at hand inherently interesting, and even so I found myself falling asleep mid-chapter several nights in the week I read it.

The other drawback for casually curious readers: Gant published in 2007, and while the principles are timeless, many details are already hopelessly dated by 2015. Did you know that MySpace’s “head-spinning popularity makes it clear the Web has transformed consumers into producers,” or that Google recently negotiated the purchase of YouTube? Crucially, you would not know from this text that Twitter was about to arrive on the scene and shatter the news cycle.

If you’re wondering how state and federal governments protect or restrict various types of journalistic activity, Gant offers a good introduction. Yes, at times it’s dry. But if you skim the case descriptions and skip the out-of-date material, you’ll find fascinating arguments on the nature of “news” as well as still-relevant speculation about where it’s headed. It’s good to be informed now that you know you’re practically already a journalist yourself.