Is a Blogger a Journalist?

Thursday, December 15, 2011
Blogger vs Journalist.

What is the difference?

Plenty, according to the Oregon court system.

Self-identified investigative blogger Crystal Cox was sued by Obsidian Finance Group for defamation after writing multiple articles criticizing the firm's co-founder, Kevin Padrick. The blogger wove information from anonymous sources with her personal opinion and posted the articles on her Bankruptcy Corruption blog.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Marco A. Hernandez concluded that the blogger is not entitled to protection under Oregon's media shield law because Cox is not "affiliated with any newspaper, magazine, periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system."

Judge Hernandez disagrees with Cox identifying herself as a member of the media. And, even if Cox were covered by a shield law, she would not be able to use the law as protection since the case is a civil case of defamation.

Media shield laws , which protect journalists from announcing sources or handing over documents, exist in 40 states. The federal government tried to enact a law in 2009, but the Senate and House of Reps could not come to agreement over who is covered under the term, 'media'.

While some state laws cover newer forms of media, including blogs and websites, other states have not focused on updated forms of news delivery.

This leaves online publications vulnerable.

Bottom line: even bloggers need to follow legal, solid journalism practices. Accurate reporting that represents all sides of an issue need to be presented to the reading public, not just a blog post that mentions an anonymous source and a laundry list of opinions.

Photo and post by LuAnn Schindler. Read more of LuAnn's work at her website.


Angela Mackintosh said...

What about the First Amendment? It doesn't discriminate against which medium the content is delivered. Websites and blogs are often more trusted than "traditional" media. Bloggers should not be viewed at a lower standard just because they don't have their articles printed on paper. It seems the shield laws need to be updated to reflect the times.

LuAnn Schindler said...

I'm not certain, but I don't think she's protected under the first amendment because she "defamed" his character based on her opinions, plus this is a civil suit not a criminal case.

I do agree that all states need to update shield laws to include present and emerging technologies, but...I'm not sure if people will be able to come together to agree on a definition of "media" and who falls under that umbrella.

Go, See, Write said...

As a blogger and lawyer, I can tell everyone here --- this issue has been reported really, really poorly by various outlets, especially in the blog world (like Mashable and others). This case really didn't have anything to do with blogging verses journalism.

If this writer would have had this article published in the NY Times and then "defended" herself in this lawsuit in exactly the same way... the exact same result would have been ordered by the Judge.

Rev. Linda M. Rhinehart Neas, M.Ed. said...

Defamation is defamation, regardless of whether you write for a newspaper, magazine or blog.

One of the principles I try to live by with my writing is something my mother taught me long ago, "If you don't have something nice to say...keep your mouth shut!"

When I studied journalism in school, the rules were clearly stated. Do your research - have at least three solid sources (i.e., experts in the field, not someone's aunt) - tell both sides of the issue.

What people today seem to forget (and this includes many professional writers) is that there is a HUGE difference between journalism and commentary. Most of what we read today, whether in the pages of a newspaper or on the web is simply commentary - someone's opinion on a particular topic. It is not news; however, the commentary is presented as news, so Jane and John Q. Public take it as news, which lead to a discussion on how many people around the world no longer read or think critically.

Critical literacy is the ability to read or listen to text, and then take it apart - deconstruct it. After asking, who said this, why are they saying it, what is their purpose, what do they want, who will this harm/help/change,etc., we can then reconstruct the text to apply to our own lives. This rarely happens any more.

As far as the question, are bloggers journalists? Some are, some bloggers do report news or issues in a well-rounded way, allowing their readers to decide what it is they feel about the situation. But, most are commentators, blogging their opinions on a multitude of subjects, which is why blogs are not allowed as a resource in research papers by most academics.

LuAnn Schindler said...

A judge may have drawn the same conclusion if she worked for the Times only because of NY's shield law (and I'll admit, I'm not sure if NY law protects bloggers).

IMO, a lot of bloggers masquerade (strong word, yes) as journalists, yet their posts don't follow many of the rules I learned in J-school. Like Linda says, it's more commentary, which is perfectly fine. There's a place for commentary and opinion. But, if a blogger is presenting information as fact - she/he better be able to back up facts with reliable sources and tell both sides of the story. Ms. Cox did not tell both sides and she didn't include facts.

I think it will be difficult to develop a "blanket" shield law for all states simply because many people cannot define who does and does not fit the term, "media".

Connie Hebert said...

This completely conflicts with the original label "blog" in my mind. I've always considered blogs as just rattling off opinions, thoughts, emotions, etc - but
NOT as an expert or memeber of the media - I think these laws or findings completely kill the concept of a blog.

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