Should bloggers have the same protections as journalists?

There’s an interesting article on The Moderate Voice about bloggers and the resentment some traditional journalists seem to hold for them. It involves a column by L.A. Times media journalist David Shaw who wrote about a recent court case where Apple was suing three bloggers for publishing confidential product information. Apple wanted to know from the bloggers who their sources were and the bloggers were claiming that they were protected by the reporter’s privilege under California’s shield law allowing them to keep their sources confidential.

The judge ended up side-stepping the issue of whether or not bloggers can be considered the same as journalists and thusly protected by the same shield laws much to Shaw’s dismay. It seems Shaw feels that bloggers shouldn’t be considered as journalists because they don’t have to jump through the same hoops as he did.

If you think that all reporters and columnists now have an accurate idea of what blogs are all about — then you need to think again after reading the latest column by L.A. Times media critic David Shaw, as Slate’s Jack Shafer points out.

If you boil this whole debate down (explained below) and strip away all the side issues you remain with this: bloggers are bypassing the gatekeepers and corporate voice-givers and doing it all themselves. Many in the print media in particular truly resent this because with the touch of a FINISH button on Powerblogs (we hope more and more) or whatever a citizen can now do what journalists have had to JUMP THROUGH HOOPS for years to do.

And that is the bottom line: it’s underlying resentment. And, interestingly, perhaps because blogging (so far) is largely an offshoot of print media you see the resentment more in newspapers and magazines than you see it in the broadcast media, which truly seems fascinated with blogging and the speed with which print information moves. Perhaps because broadcast media already moves information in real time, versus clunkier newspapers and magazines which do have online sites but their prime products are more widely circulated on paper way after the fact.

The TMV article pretty much agrees with the Slate article that blogging is as legitimate a form of journalism as the traditional forms are. As for myself, well, I’m of several minds about it.

On the one hand it’s hard to deny that several bloggers do have a following on par with many journalists and, in some cases, more so. Or that those bloggers do manage to produce output that is as credible as anything from a mainstream newspaper. Indeed, many of the big name bloggers do consider themselves journalists of a fashion. It’s also true that there are plenty of journalists out there who have less credibility in my book than many bloggers hold. I’m not the sort that accepts anything written by a journalist as being a thoroughly fact-checked and flawless recitation of the truth simply because he happens to work for a big newspaper or media company. There are far too many examples of that not being the case to ignore.

On the other hand, I’m a blogger myself and I’m about as far from being a credible journalist as you can get. While I do strive to present the facts on the issues I talk about, my goal isn’t to communicate news so much as my personal views on the topics that I’m blogging about. Everything I write is going to carry my personal viewpoint and the prejudices, biases, and so on that comes with that viewpoint and I’ve never tried to claim otherwise. SEB isn’t meant to be a news source and I try to make that clear whenever it comes up. I do try to inform and entertain, but mostly I just try to get people to think for themselves. I think most bloggers out there fall into a similar classification as myself. That said, there are bloggers out there that I do hold in high regard on various topics not the least of which is P.Z. Meyers for his information on Evolution. Considering that he’s an associate professor of biology at the University of Minnesota and has a habit of providing a wealth of information on the topics he covers I think it’s not at all unreasonable to consider him a decent authority on that topic.

As for whether the shield laws should apply to bloggers as they do to journalists, I agree with Slate’s Jack Shafer who points out that back when the First Amendment was being written down by the Founding Fathers they intended it to apply to everyone who publishes regardless of their credentials mainly because there weren’t any major news corporations around at the time for it to apply to.

Shaw seems to believe that the First Amendment and its subsidiary protections belong to the credentialed employees of the established corporate press and not to the great unwashed. I suggest that he—or one of the four experienced editors who touched his copy—research the history of the First Amendment. They’ll learn that the Founders wrote it precisely to protect Tom, Dick, and Matt and the wide-eyed pamphleteers and the partisan press of the time. The professional press, which Shaw believes so essential in protecting society, didn’t even exist until the late 19th century.

If blogs err, Shaw has my permission to shame them. If they libel him, he has my blessing to sue. I suspect that the more he treats blogs like the press the more he will come to realize that they are the press, and that the petty attempt he’s made with his column to commandeer the First Amendment for the corporate media will only wreak the damage to society and the press that he so fears.

I agree not because I feel that your average blogger is as credible as your average journalist or that blogging is the “new wave” of journalism which will eventually overtake and destroy traditional journalism, but because it is quite similar to the pamphleteers of so long ago in our country’s history. I would expect that Thomas Paine, among many others, would be a blogger if he were alive today and for every Thomas Paine in this country’s past there many others who were no better than some of the nutcases who blog today. Our Founding Fathers sought to protect the free expression of ideas, good or bad, because they felt it was critical to a free nation. They believed that it was every citizen’s responsibility to carefully consider the ideas—and the sources of those ideas—before buying into them.

Much as television didn’t kill off movies or radio despite the dire predictions of the time, I don’t believe that blogging is going to kill off traditional journalism either; no matter how popular some of the bloggers become. If anything, the best bloggers will probably make the jump to more traditional forms of journalism (and vice-versa) if they’re as good as some would have you believe. Indeed, some have already made this transition.

I suppose all of this is just my long-winded way of saying that you’re an idiot if you don’t carefully consider your sources of information regardless of whether it happens to be a blogger, a newspaper, or a news broadcast. Allowing yourself to simply accept whatever is said because a person has been credentialed and hired by big media is a dangerous mindset to hold because most big media, including the news organizations, are businesses first and foremost. At the same time, some of the greatest thinkers in history never finished college.

Got off on a bit of a tangent with this one, but I think I got across what I wanted to say.

12 thoughts on “Should bloggers have the same protections as journalists?

  1. I have not heard any one state this issue so succinctly. You hit all the points I want to make when people talk about blogs and MSM. I am a personal blogger. I put news on my site, but only when I have a strong feeling or want to make my opinion known.

    Oh, nice blog name and layout. =]


  2. bloggers are bypassing the gatekeepers and corporate voice-givers and doing it all themselves.

    Corporate voice-givers?

    Corporate voice-givers!

    First let me say that the idea that corporations are the ones most fit to grant a voice to you or me is repugnant! I have a voice thanks and will use it any fucking way I see fit and hope everyone else feels the same way… CORPORATE FUCKING VOICE-GIVERS?!? What kind of brain-dead slave of the corporate bloatocracy even approaches the kind of mewling, craven, bottom-feeding parasite who could even mouth those words?

    But more to the point most of the blogs I read, though not all, tend to gather news from various sources that are of interest to their readership and in that way provide a valuable service to a like minded community. I do not consider these blogs ‘journalistic’ rather they are designed to be opinion pages supported by referenced materials. I do not see why they should be protected as journalistic outlets nor should they be subject to the same laws and regulations as if they were journalists.

  3. No, it’s not journalism after the newspaper/tv fashion.  It’s a new genre of journalism; a personal one.  (Obviously, some bloggers are more deserving of this distinction than others.) I see no reason why bloggers shouldn’t be given the same protections as they’re definitely a part of the media.

    Apple going after those bloggers is like the cops going after a couple of college kids at OSU for downloading music and erasing their hdds.

  4. The distinction between the press and the majority of bloggers is that between the professional and the amateur—the former tends to be paid for it, the latter does it for the love of it.

    That the Founders considered the “press” to be “anyone who throws opinions out there for others to read” is clear, historically.  Bloggers should get the same protections as reporters from the NYT—and be subject to the same scrutiny and responsibility.

  5. The point I failed to make in the first paragraph above (as I note upon rereading it) is that this is, I believe, part of the reason for resentment from much of the MSM—the “I’ve paid my dues, and these guys are now claiming to be as good as me” or “They’re giving away for free what I charge money for, whatever will I do?” arguments.  Which don’t hold any more water, per se, than they do in any other field of endeavor or industry.

  6. My mom, a former journalist, keeps insisting that blogging is the ultimate form of self-worship by people who are too fond of their own words.  But then again, she has real trouble figuring out how to open email attachments, so I wouldn’t give her opinion too much weight.  Les, thank you—you made some excellent points.

    I think the only difference between “journalists” and “bloggers” is that the former have had someone ELSE decide that their words are worth publishing.  Now any blogger can do his own publishing without needing any stamp of approval, so everyone does.  Other than that, I really don’t see much difference between the columnist writing in the NYT about his love life and a blogger doing the same thing.

  7. Bloggers should get the same protections as reporters from the NYT—and be subject to the same scrutiny and responsibility.

    No sense going overboard, dude. Just hold them to the same scruitiny and responsibility as Fox News.

  8. My mom, a former journalist, keeps insisting that blogging is the ultimate form of self-worship by people who are too fond of their own words

    I think that’s a common opinion. In some cases it may even be true. But it’s also the human condition to ping the world in the hopes of connecting with others of a like mind, or just to see what’s out there, or to have conversation on topics you’re interested in.

    Aren’t we currently sending some signals into space for that very reason? “Helloooo! We’re here. We’re from earth. What’s up out there? Yo, call us!”

    And although i don’t have a blog, I’m fond of my own words. I just don’t like talking in a vacuum, so I come over here and poach on Les’s blog.

  9. Once upon a time most journalists had a reputation for telling the truth, or at least in so much as they saw it. I’m not so sure that reputation was earned. There is plenty of proof of the media’s manipulation of stories for their own agenda. The good thing, now, is that the internet and bloggers will not let that kind of shit lay in a puddle, but fling it up against the fan for all to see. This communication revolution may give us an opportunity to come to grips with reality, for a change. And remember that despots maintain their power by keeping secrets, which is getting very difficult these days. Being able to express our world-view is what the Founding Fathers had in mind with the First Amendment. Bloggers and journalists deserve to be protected.

  10. Freedom of the Press is only for those who can afford to buy a Press.

    I forgot who said it, but it is true… we have the freedom of the press, but only if you could afford one. Luckily for us, technology has progressed and now anyone can own a “press”.

    The Founders never envisioned Televsion, Telegraphs, electronic type, Radio, the Internet, etc. but each of these are “Presses”. All of the founders to one extent or another were ‘journalists’ in the original meaning of the word, they kept journals, public pritend ones, or were pamphleteers, or wrote broadsides, etc… none of these would be considered “traditional media” by today’s standards.

    I see bloggers in the same vein as Franklin, Paine, etc… now 99.99999999~% of us (myself included) will never reach their stature or skill, but neither did 99.99999999~% of their contemporaries.

    This is the same ol dance that society has always steped to… old guard bitching and moaning (and spreadng FUD) about the new guard’s ways and how it will be the end of civilaztion unless they are stopped… blah blah blah

    Pass them a hanky and move on. I think that the courts will eventually side on the idea that bloggers are no different *from a legal standpoint* than MSM writers, it may just take a bit for the law to catch up with the technology as usual.

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