That’s right, put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Lots of journalists, bloggers and others who work to uncover the truth have been excited at the prospect of Congress finally passing a federal shield bill to prevent reporters from being forced to testify as to the identities of confidential sources. When it came out last week that the Senate version of the federal shield bill would exclude unpaid bloggers and citizen journalists, the enthusiasm was dampened (for some of us).

The Senate version of the bill limits the law’s protection to a very strict definition of a journalist. It would only apply to paid employees or contractors who work for publishers of various media and wire services. The House version, in contract, only limits the law to those who gather news “for a substantial portion of [their] livelihood or for substantial financial gain”.

The good folks at the Citizen Media Law Project suggest this exclusion is due to most senators’ unfamiliarity with citizen journalists. I daresay it also has to do with the fact that citizen journalists and bloggers are not going to get the backing of the big journalism organizations pushing the law in the first place. A lot of big media, I’d expect, would love to have exclusive protections to prevent bloggers and citizen journalists from scooping them on whistleblower-type stories.

In my opinion, the change seems to go against the entire premise for the law in the first place – and we should all be upset about it. To hell with competition from bloggers and unpaid journalists – we need all the watchdogs we can get as the numbers of professional journalists deplete.

Moreover, any professional journalist who agrees that the change should exclude unpaid bloggers should consider that most of us are one layoff away from becoming “unpaid journalists” ourselves. Consider those ex-newspaper employees out there starting their own operations from scratch…don’t your former colleagues deserve the same protection? Doesn’t anyone who’s uncovering the truth?

Aside from the limits of the protection, the White House is trying to push through changes that would make it so the shield does not apply in cases where the confidential source leaks information pertaining to national security. Stay tuned on that front – it just might have legs (or kill the bill altogether).