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This Week in Review: Greenwald and the journalists’ club, and a j-school’s big political win

July 6, 2013

By Mark Coddington

Greenwald and the “who’s a journalist?” debate: As U.S. National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden tries to find a home (more on him later), the debate around the professional legitimacy of the journalists who broke his story — especially The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald — continued this week. Two pieces in particular drew the bulk of the criticism: At The Wall Street Journal, Edward Jay Epstein accused Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras of going beyond reporting to engage in “aiding and abetting” theft in their work with Snowden. And a Washington Post editorial advised the U.S. government on how to stop the leaks from Snowden and others like him.

Both pieces were met immediately with loud protests. CUNY’s Jeff Jarvis put together a Storify of the Twitter debates surrounding the Epstein column and whether it went too far in its accusations, including some responses from Greenwald himself. The Huffington Post’s Jack Mirkinson rounded up some of the reaction to the Post’s editorial, much of which revolved around the fact that one of the people Snowden leaked to was the Post’s own reporter. Salon’s David Sirota warned of the danger inherent in the Post’s executives taking the side of government surveillance over the reporting freedom of their own reporters: “their concern is not that Snowden and journalists might be muzzled, but that they might not be before they break any more news.”

Gawker’s Hamilton Nolan made a similar point and also tied the Post’s animosity toward the story to jealousy over The Guardian’s scoop on it, noting another Post story that characterized The Guardian as a small paper, even though its web audience is bigger than the Post’s. On the other side, Reuters’ Felix Salmon argued that it’s perfectly reasonable for journalists to ask whether Greenwald broke the law on this story.

For many of those watching journalism, this discussion got distilled to the extremely well-trodden argument over who’s a journalist. New York Times public editor Margaret Sullivan posed exactly that question, arguing that when the Times uses labels like “activist” or “blogger,” they might be accurate, but they also signal a “you’re not one of us” distinction. One of the main objections to Sullivan’s guidelines for defining journalists (voiced well by paidContent’s Mathew Ingram) was that journalists should be defined by their willingness to be an adversary to government. Sullivan conceded that point in a follow-up.

Several others offered their own definitions (or resistance to definitions): Blogging pioneer Dave Winer stated that bloggers are people who originate ideas and make news, while journalists are those who report news. Jeff Jarvis argued that we should do away with the term “journalist” and instead talk about the extent to which people engage in journalism as a service (an approach that web philosopher David Weinberger endorsed). Poynter’s Eric Deggans also called for a definitional (and legal) shift from journalism as craft to journalism as act, and Forbes’ John McQuaid said the “who’s a journalist” question is often more of an attempt to delegitimize someone’s work than an honest inquiry. Read the rest of the story at the Nieman Journalism Lab.

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