Are Bloggers Journalists? Redux

Last month I posted an item from and MIT blog posing the question: Are Bloggers Journalists?  It seems the issue is gaining steam. Now the Christian Science Monitor asks the same question.

Even in a country where most citizens probably
have no idea what a blog is, it’s not just an academic debate.
Bloggers, some observers say, are becoming major players in everything
from national politics to consumer trends. As a result, "their
conflicts, motives, and agendas matter enormously," says Zephyr
Teachout, who served as Internet director for the Howard Dean campaign.

 

Now in California, a court will soon decide whether bloggers have
the same legal protections as journalists under "shield" laws that
protect reporters from revealing their sources. Among Apple’s targets
is a 19-year-old blogger who twice recently leaked information about
new company products weeks before Apple unveiled the products
themselves.

If anything, the lawsuit furthers the reality that it only takes a
bit of Web savvy and few dollars to wield enormous influence. Consider
the Power Line blog, cofounded by Hinderaker. Last year, it helped set
off the mass debunking of CBS’s supposed memos about President Bush’s
National Guard service. Marshall’s Talking Points Memo site, meanwhile,
is a must-read among the Democratic elite.

And…

Ultimately, the issue comes down to whether bloggers
act like traditional journalists, says University of Iowa law professor
and First Amendment specialist Randall Bezanson. Simply expressing
opinions to a tiny audience doesn’t count, he says. If so, "then I’m a
journalist when I write a letter to my mother reporting on what I’m
doing. I don’t think the [constitutional] free-press clause was
intended to extend its protections to letters to mothers from sons."

Uh, does this mean it’s time to get serious?

No comments

  1. i don’t think i understand the constitutional/legal difference between “freedom of speech” and “freedom of the press” in the U.S. It seems like they’re both protected, with about the same limits (libel and slander are not protected, fraud or intentional deception, especially for financial gain, are not permitted, etc.) It would seem that what bloggers write should be protected in almost the same way whether the blogger claims she or he is a journalist or not. Of course there are journalistic standards that ordinary speakers don’t have to adhere to, but those are voluntary.

    One difference, of course, is that a journalist is exempt from revealing the identity of anonymous sources, generally, where an ordinary citizen is not. But what else is different?

  2. Well the questions you raise are being discussed at about every J-school and journalism conference in the country rigtht now. I think the law will clarify that bloggers are going to have to observe the same precautions about libel or chance getting sued.

    But it’s your last sentence about anonymous sources that is the crux of the issue to me. Why to people who write for the NYTimes or the Dogpatch Gazette get some sort of protection? If it is challenged–and it will be–then what the heck is special about journalism?

  3. Right, exactly. (Not that i can answer the question, although i tend to think something IS special about journalism.)

    Another part of the issue is the tremendous consolidation that’s gone on in print and radio (and to a lesser extent, other broadcast) media outlets. I’ve heard it argued that in many cases journalists and editors aren’t consciously choosing not to cover controversial stories, such as those with anonymous sources. It’s just that there are 4 journalists doing the work that 15 used to do, and it’s a financial decision to go with the easier-to-report stories.

    But blogging is low-cost and not subject to editorial review, in most cases, and so bloggers are covering some of the more controversial stories.

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