March 9, 2007
By Ken Krayeske • Hartford • 12:15 PM EST
Josh Wolf has spent the past six months in a federal penitentiary for refusing to turn over video footage of an anarchist rally that injured a cop in San Francisco in July 2005.
The footage is not even needed in the court case anymore. But the Ninth Circuit court has refused to release him from his contempt of court charges.
A federal grand jury subpeonaed his raw footage, and he claimed his First Amendment rights and wouldn't give it up. So he's spent 170 days in jail.
The same debate fomenting over my situation - is he a journalist? is he a blogger? - has run wild in his, too.
Will Bunch at Attytood frames it like this:
In 2007, it all seems like such a big mess -- who's a journalist, who's a confidential source? -- but it's really not as hard as it looks. Good journalism is simply the gathering of information in the way that will get the most truth out to the most people. New technology has opened those tools to more people -- that's a good thing -- but the basic news-gathering practices that deserve Constitutional protection remain the same.
I couldn't have said it better. It is essentially the argument that the Society of Professional Journalists was having about my case, according to my conversations Christine Tatum, the president of SPJ. While people were debating more as to whether or not I was an activist than a journalist there, there was an argument as to what the definition of a "journalist" is.
I can't comprehend why a journalist won't defend another person who was out trying to collect information and report on a story. Those who dare to hold a mirror up to society deserve protection and unity around them. 40-Year Plan friend Andy Thibault a long time ago threw out a similar argument:
"Journalists wear disguises, and one of them is the disguise of objectivity," say historians Judith and William Serrin, authors of MUCKRAKING. "All good journalists have agendas. They wish to put the crooked sheriff in jail. They wish to unveil the patent medicine fraud. They wish to free the innocent man from jail."
Reading a Deborah J. Saunders of the San Francisco Comical only frustrates me. Why doesn't she want to free an innocent man from jail? She claims Wolf is a man with a camera and an agenda. Well, he sold his footage to a local tv station. Does that make him a professional?
And Judy Miller - who actually supports Josh Wolf in this - wasn't she just a woman with a pad and an agenda? She helped start a war. Bunch actually argues that Wolf is more a journalist than Judy Miller.
The divide between new and old media is only expected. It happened in with TV and newspapers. Back at the Newhouse School of Public Communications, we on the print side mocked the major for broadcast journalism. We called it "BJ" for short.
Generally, I still feel like that about TV reporters, especially after wtaching many of them manipulate my story. So I don't see the tension between bloggers and "real" journalists ebbing any time soon.
It's funny, though. I once had a publisher for an alt-weekly tell me he would never hire a j-school grad because we didn't understand alternative journalism. So even within print journalism, people form clubs and let in only whom they think is acceptable. He hired me anyways.
As long as bloggers use their space in this democratizing medium known as the web to hold mainstream journalists accountable, there will be ink stained wretches who don't want to extend the First Amendment to them.
I think the conflict is good for journalism, though, because the vigorous debate helps our understanding of our roles in society grow. When the house is divided, it shows that it is a vital issue.
But while we pontificate and talk high falutin' about rights and entries and who deserves what under "freedom of the press," Josh Wolf lives the struggle with this: