Why Journalism is Important
As we continue to witness the detention, and ever closer extradition, of Julian Assange, in addition to the Russians detaining a Wall Street Journal reporter, it is important to get back to first principles and remind ourselves why journalism needs to be protected.
It sadly needs to be stated again that free expression is a fundamental human right. If you do not own the right to speak your mind, then you do not own your life or have control over the means to maintain your life. That is, you belong to whomever exercises that control. It is really as simple as that. The right to life means the right to accumulate the means necessary to sustain that life (private property), and it also means the freedom to use your body to express your thoughts, and to take in the thoughts of others. It is beyond dispiriting that this needs to be restated.
Journalists are the most visible means of human expression on a day-to-day basis. They express themselves, and inform us. The right to do both is a part of that foundational, fundamental human right of self-ownership. As with any correct principle, it is also practical. Journalists serve as a check on the power of the state. An independent source of information and criticism means that the populace will have the informational resources to know what the state is doing, and oppose it if they wish. This is why states wish to shut down journalists, and why the authors of the US constitution explicitly protected this right in that document. So, who then is a journalist?
Journalists Are Not a Class of People
What is most at risk today is the notion that journalism is an activity not a class of people. This means that anyone can be a journalist. The class-based view of journalism is on display all the time in the mainstream media, and for transparent reasons. This view is nothing more than a form of domestic protectionism. Just like foreign trade protectionists, those espousing this view want to be shielded from competition. It is yet another version of established economic interests trying to prevent change.
The class-based view wants to shut out so-called “fake” journalists from access to the government and to deplatform them so the public cannot hear them. Of course, to do this they must ally themselves with the state. This would be the only way they could possibly shut them out of the market. To ally yourself with the state means to parrot their talking points, not to provide objective information, commonly called the truth. This breaks down the practical usefulness of journalism, it ceases to be a check on the state. This reality is on full display on all the mainstream news programs and newspapers.
The problem is that they cannot force people (yet) to purchase their parroting doublespeak, and the market is speaking clearly about the lack of desire of the populace to exchange money for this patent BS. Ratings and subscriptions for the mainstream media are in free fall while alternatives such as Substack, Rumble, and other platforms are growing rapidly. All this has done is make the established media shriek more shrilly that only a class of journalism need be protected. This is why they are stunningly silent about the imprisonment (without charges) of Julian Assange.
We can see that this class-based model of journalism is morally bankrupt, denies anyone their fundamental human right to express themselves, and is a naked ploy to maintain status and income among people that no longer wish to grant them these things. It is a model as uneconomic as it is immoral.
Everyone Has Always Been a Journalist
The idea that anyone can be a journalist is not new. This is important to remember. The established media will claim (without proof) that they represent the deepest tradition. This is also a transparent attempt to maintain their status as an elite class. The reality is however quite different. It was only the rise of industrial capitalism that a mass media was created. It was the industrial era that saw the rise of an information industry of any scale. Prior to that, like so many other trades, journalism was a cottage industry. It was also an industry practiced by many as a side hustle. The great anti-slavery crusader William Lloyd Garrison published the Liberator from his home from 1831 until 1866.
Most of the transmission of information was done informally throughout most of history. Of course, the state tried at all times to control the flow of this information. History is filled with examples of a mandarin class of house prophets and whores who acted as the “official” source of information. The class-based model has been around as long as the state, and always in alliance with that state. Yet the alternative press, if you will, has been around as long, and been the arbiter of real information, that uplifts the right of humans to freely express themselves and conveys more accurate information.
It was the ideological revolution of the late 18th. century that uplifted the principles of a free society and unleashed the productive forces of industrial capitalism. This allowed anyone to be able to practice journalism, and allowed a fiercely competitive information market to emerge that could provide millions a low-cost source of news. Yes, the state tried (and sometimes did) coopt this media industry, but as long as the ideology of a free society was embraced by most this threat was containable. Anyone could start up a paper, and many did. There was little thought given to the notion that journalists were anyone but those conveying information.
Today’s technology has only magnified this individualist model of journalism. Anyone with a smart phone and an internet signal can upload information for all to see. This could be innocuous stories, or more important ones about police brutality. It may be uncovering scandal and corruption, or it may be simply expressing positions on the issues of the day. The costs are no barrier to entry, and millions have become, at least on occasion, journalists.
At the same time, the power of the state has grown dramatically, and the state allied media is in full panic mode at the technological disruption to their business model. This has prompted them to ally even more tightly with the state to deplatform, and disparage and shut off this new journalism. The key idea is to keep claiming that journalists are a special class of people rather than an activity that anyone can engage in. It is incumbent of those of us who wish to further human rights and maintain a check on the state by remembering that this has never really been the case, nor is there a moral case for this arrangment.
To remind ourselves that journalism is an activity is to recommit ourselves to the protection of foundational and fundamental human rights. It is also to engage in the practical battle of checking the power of the state which always serves the interests of human rights. This viewpoint is really just another way of saying that everyone should be free to live peaceably and express themselves as their conscience informs them. No journalistic certificate needed.
Praise Be to God