Can anyone be a journalist? Researcher examines citizen journalism

A new article detailing the relationship of two U.S. Supreme Court cases and how they work together to uphold freedom of expression has been published in the Georgia Law Review by William E. Lee, professor of journalism in the University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Lee's article focuses on New York Times v. Sullivan and its companion case, Abernathy v. Sullivan, in which the court upheld the First Amendment rights of both the press and ministers active in the civil rights movement. These rulings affect today's citizen journalists.

The article, "Citizen-Critics, Citizen Journalists, and the Perils of Defining the Press," can be found in the most recent issue of the Georgia Law Review.

While many are familiar with the landmark case New York Times v. Sullivan, the companion case of Abernathy v. Sullivan has not earned the same recognition. Both cases ruled on an editorial advertisement published in the New York Times in 1960 called "Heed Their Rising Voices" supporting the civil rights movement. L.B. Sullivan, public safety commissioner of Montgomery, Alabama, sued the New York Times for defamation, and in a separate case sued four Alabama ministers who appeared to have endorsed the advertisement. It was later discovered that they did not help sponsor the ad. Both the New York Times and the four ministers were found liable in Alabama courts and appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Lee's article explains why the Supreme Court ultimately blended the two cases together and ruled in favor of the New York Times and the four ministers on First Amendment grounds.

"It's important to understand that by blending the Abernathy and Times cases, the court was holding that both the ministers and the press had equal First Amendment protection," Lee, a professor of communication law, said.

According to Justice William J. Brennan Jr., author of the landmark New York Times v. Sullivan ruling, the freedoms of speech, press, assembly and petitioning the government are interrelated components and fall under a collective term that he coined "freedoms of expression."

The relationship segues to today's citizen journalists who, with the proliferation of the Internet and cellphone cameras, are expanding the definition of journalists.

"Anyone can be a journalist and they don't need an affiliation with an established outlet," said Lee about one of the points of his article. "It's increasingly important that unaffiliated journalists know they have the same legal protection as a reporter at a newspaper. It's significant for the development of alternative forms of expression that do not fit neatly in our traditional concepts of speech or press."

The article also focuses on how judges today struggle with defining the rights of .

"Judges have tried to define the press and the results have often not been pretty," Lee said.

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Citation: Can anyone be a journalist? Researcher examines citizen journalism (2014, December 5) retrieved 21 August 2019 from
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User comments

Dec 05, 2014
I usually don't ask anyone to show me his snapshots, taken with the mobile during a concert or to report a complete feature film from day before.
Typically there are only some of my friends I would prefer to consult, most of them teachers, that means, those who studied how to present information.

Dec 05, 2014
If the 'professionals' can be 'journalists', anyone can be.

Dec 06, 2014
"The managing editor of Rolling Stone, Will Dana, issued a statement on Friday apologizing to readers and suggested that many of the claims in their blockbuster story on gang rape at the University of Virginia were inaccurate. "
Jon Stewart just lied about the death of a suspect in police custody furthering the lies being perpetrated by other 'journalists'.
It was a citizen journalist the uncovered Dan Rather's 'fake but true' attempt to smear George W. Bush before the election.

Dec 07, 2014
If those dirty hacks at Faux News can pretend to be journalists, anyone can.

Dec 07, 2014
If those dirty hacks at Faux News can pretend to be journalists, anyone can.

They report, you decide.
And the majority have decided Fox News provides more information, less propaganda, than their competition.

Dec 07, 2014
Here in the US conventional journalism is little more than a propaganda tool used to shape peoples political beliefs. If a non flattering truth does manage to get out due to some sort of leak on the internet or talk radio the MSM will acknowledge it as truth only when the fact is so old that it no longer makes a difference. Did you ever notice how virtually every "News" report on a particular subject is worded exactly the same? Most of them are more like a dispatch from the Ministry of Truth than real news.

Finally, to answer the question of "Can anyone be a journalist?", I sincerely hope the day never comes when they can't for we will then have then lost our last hope of freedom!

Even asking that question reeks of oppression.

Dec 07, 2014
I'm waiting for the 'Maxheadroom' journalist.
We are nearly their with ubiquitous cameras and a means to disseminate.
Now we just need journalists to capture the real behind the scenes backroom discussions and post them on-line.
If not for citizen journalists and the internet, would any 'professional' have dug up the numerous videos of Gruber?
Gruber videos confirmed what numerous people on Fox News have been stating for the past 6 years: Obamacare is fraudulent and corrupt.

Dec 07, 2014
The list of major news stories that have been disregarded or glossed over by the media for the past 6 years is endless. Fast and Furious alone proves that there is no investigative reporting when it might harm the agenda.

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