Merriam-Webster dictionary is by no means the tour de force of sources in a debate – but it is important to understand a word before you argue what it means. They define journalist as either “a person engaged in journalism” or “a writer who aims at a mass audience.”
Why do they come up with these definitions? Well that has all to do with the source of the word. I am going to make the conservative assumption that my reading audience is capable of critical thinking and bring out word etymology. Journalist can be broken down into “journal” and “ist.”. This is the reason for definition number one – the word literally means a person that interested in journals. So what is a journal – that word can mean literally anything from CNN to your personal diary.
According to a strict viewpoint of an etymologist, as long as you write in a journal you are a journalist. I hope this leads the reader to ask, “Why do we have definition number two?” Well, that is by mean convention.
The first commercial newspapers were called journals because they featured the daily news (journal comes from the Old French word jurnal meaning daily). The men (and often women) that wrote in these early works were called journalist because they wrote in these journals. After a long period of time, being called a journalist meant that you happened to work for one of these special types of journals that were designed to tell the news of the day.
Remember, the printed word in the early period was the only way (outside of collected the news testimony yourself) to figure out what happened in your neighborhood (much less the rest of the world). People bought newspapers in the morning and in the evening in order to gain a broader understanding of the world and the events going on in it. As such, the newspapers formed a rivalry. In most towns, there waswere a right-wing paper (generally the morning paper) and a left-wing paper (generally the evening paper). As time moved on, the world got smaller and smaller – the direct result was a much smaller news core.
Local papers went under as TV became a new and more effective medium of transporting the facts. As such, there was little need for two readings of the news. The desire to be non-partisan in news became a commercial necessity (even if they were not really non-partisan). Today, there is literally no reason for any of these conventions. The internet has destroyed the walls of convention and allowed anyone to pick-up the fact through one of these sources or directly from the people that are making the news. The overhead has also diminished dramatically. The cost of running a conventional paper or newsroom is significantly higher than hosting a website.
So, what does all of this have to do with the original question and the intro blurb introducing this story?
Depending on what you write, where you write it and how many people read it – you may be a proud journalist technically. If you write about things that concern more people then yourself, you are in a good starting point. Something to distinguish a journalist from a diary writer is the information is interesting to multiple people (and the writer actually wants multiple people to read the text). Secondly, where you write it is important. While this may seem like rather unnecessary a qualifier, if you are writing in smoke or in a more conventional medium like papers, you may be too ineffective to call you a journalist today.
The big wigs at Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, and CBS reach millions of people per day. Local papers can reach thousands of people per day. If you are doing this, great! If you are not, you might as well not write your pieces at all. If you publish your work on Facebook or Twitter, you can reach millions of people in a single day. The “share” and “retweet” buttons are an amazing way to spread the word. The average blogger will reach more people than the average local journalist on the same issue in the same amount of time in most instances. Bloggers are the ultimate journalist. Here is the qualifier for the where, the how many. Remember, to be considering a member of the press core you need to reach a large audience – market saturation is important. People have to read your work in order for you to be influential. One can make that a true test of whether or not you are acting in journalism, “am I influencing the talk of the day for a large audience of people.” If you are doing this, you are a journalist. If you are not, you are a writer without an audience.
In conclusion, a journalist is anyone that writes (or says) anything that a large amount of people want to read and delivers that information in such a way that these individuals can have access to the information (through written word, audio, or video).