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Is your hairdresser a journalist?

A look at the function and definition of journalist in our society.

Asking if your hairdresser is a journalist may seem a bit absurd, but the reality is that for many people a trip to the salon is also an opportunity to pick up the latest dirt on who's dating who and other town gossip. We don't usually think of gossip as being journalistic; however, many newspapers have a reporter on staff whose primary duty is to share gossip. Most everyone would consider him or her to be a journalist so why is the idea of your stylist being a journalist considered such a radical idea?

With a Federal Shield law having recently made it out of committee in the House, a debate has flared over who should be protected under the law. A recent amendment to the Shield Law states that only those who benefit financially from their journalism are covered; those who provide the news as a labor of love are excluded. While many of the journalist organizations have applauded this compromise, I think it's important to look at who is excluded and how journalism is an activity that should be protected by a far larger contingent than those qualified under the proposed law.

Journalists gather and disseminate information. Period. They may have various ideologies that govern how they present that information; they may be bloggers; they may work for the mainstream media, or they might be your barber or bartender. Historically journalism has included a small-class of people whose work is delivered by one to many; in other words, common perception dictates that journalists disseminate information to a group of people and not to individuals. The reality is that journalists have a wealth of possible mediums they can use to inform their audience and all of these forms should be protected under a shield law.

While your hair stylist might not be unearthing details on weapons of mass destruction, the information he or she digs up from his or her various clients is still news, and there is already a niche carved out in the mainstream media for similar content that would be protected. Outlets such as TMZ focus exclusively on gossip, and celebrity stories continue to proliferate on the mainstream news all the time. Beyond the fact that one has a massive industry behind it and the other is truly grassroots, the dominant difference between the two is the method of delivery.

We're a long way from changing our cultural perspectives on what is journalism, but the advent of blogs and other "citizen journalism" forums have forced us to ask ourselves what defines a journalist. Instead of simply trying reshape our definitions, the time has come to tear down our established ideas and start building a new understanding of journalism from the ground up. People get their news from a variety of means and all of the people who help surface and spread that information are journalists in someway and deserve equal protection under a robust and comprehensive shield law that protects all of us and not simply a small group of elites.