Sunday, December 11, 2011

Is a Blogger a Journalist?

by John C. Dvorak

The case of Crystal Cox, a self-professed "investigative blogger" from Oregon, should outrage the public. The woman was investigating targeted companies that she believed to be acting unethically and found herself at the wrong end of a lawsuit.

The evidence she had unearthed concerning a Pacific Northwest finance group she was after and the sources she used seemed, in the end, immaterial to the outcome of the lawsuit against her. I won't get into the details of Cox's case since my concern is the definition of journalist, but you can read more here." The judge, recent Obama appointee Marco Hernandez, asserted that as a blogger with no other credentials, she was not a journalist and was entitled to no protection.

He said, “Although the defendant is a self-proclaimed ‘investigative blogger’ and defines herself as ‘media,’ the record fails to show that she is affiliated with any newspaper, magazine, periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system. Thus, she is not entitled to the protections of the law in the first instance.”

Apparently, there are now new qualifications for journalists. So who decides these qualifications? Hernandez? Where did he get this from? I've never seen a laundry list in the U.S. that precludes bloggers. There is nothing in the Bill of Rights, to wit: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

In this instance, the concept of the "press" means any dissemination of information through a communications medium. In the past, this would be a flyer, pamphlet, or newspaper. Now, it includes TV, radio, magazines, PDF files, and blogs. Just because the media have modernized, it does not suddenly mean that the rules have changed.

More importantly, when we look at journalists' rights, there are no admissions whatsoever. You do not need a license—like you do in most South American countries, for example—to be a journalist. I'm not sure where Hernandez got his ideas from, but it seems someone failed to emphasize the Constitution.

By his definition, all Cox has to do is publish a pamphlet or write a book to be a journalist. The defining difference between a pamphleteer and a blogger is, frankly, beyond my grasp. How would a pamphlet containing the same information qualify her as a journalist when the more modern and slick blog disqualifies her? Where's the logic in that?

Taking away the mention of the pamphlet, the rest of Hernandez's list implies that you need some sort of blessing to be a journalist, and apparently an employee. Someone has to pay you. Thus, you'd be at a newspaper or a syndicate. This logic flies in the face of the Bill of Rights.

As far as I'm concerned, bloggers can easily be considered journalists if they claim to be taking part in journalistic endeavors. That means reporting. They can merely report the current weather conditions, as far as anyone should be concerned. Publish the report, "the weather in Berkeley is nice today," and you are a journalist. You do not need training to do this. You do not need a license or a degree. There are no hoops that you need to jump through. No one will fine you for practicing journalism without a license. This is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, not by the Columbia School of Journalism.

That said, some knowledge of libel and slander laws would be useful if you plan on writing about more than the weather—and if you want to stay out of court.

Hopefully this un-American precedent will be reversed shortly. Meanwhile, the public should be outraged. Furthermore, for years, many writers have advocated for the idea that the Bill of Rights is outdated in the modern era and that journalists per se should be regulated. These people should be strongly rebuked. If we do not protect our rights, we lose them.

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