Are Bloggers Journalists?

    December 13, 2011
    Chris Crum

Oh, how many times will this whole blogger vs. journalist debate come up? Will there ever be consensus? Does the title even matter?

Are bloggers journalists? Tell us what you think.

Earlier this week, we looked at a U.S. court that ruled an Oregon blogger is not a journalist. Shaylin Clark reported on the story, where Obsidian Finance Group sued blogger Crystal Cox for defamation. Cox runs some blogs that talk about legal and financial issues, including one called Obsidian Finance Sucks. As Clark wrote:

…she has taken issue with the behavior of Obsidian Finance and Kevin Padrick, co-founder of the company. In one post in particular, posted late last year, she accused Padrick of fraud, of dishonesty with Obsidian’s shareholders, and the abuse of his position as the company’s chapter 11 trustee for personal gain.

The post acknowledges that Cox had already received a cease-and-desist from Padrick’s attorney. In response to Cox’s refusal to comply, Obsidian sued for defamation. Cox, who represented herself in court, argued that she was a journalist, and that the information in her post had come from a confidential source, insulating both her and the source from liability. Judge Hernandez wrote in his ruling that internet blogs are not covered by the statute in question, which defines media of communication as “any newspaper, magazine or other periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system.” He further argues, citing state statute, that the protections of Oregon’s journalism shield law do not apply in civil defamation suits, meaning that even if he accepted Cox’s argument that being a blogger made her a journalist, she would not be protected by the shield law in this instance.

OK, so the protections of the shield law don’t apply here. Fine. The issue isn’t so much about this case. It’s about that part:

Internet blogs are not covered by the statute in question, which defines media of communication as “any newspaper, magazine or other periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system.”

And there it is. Where exactly is the line that turns a blog into a “news service”? When it has no opinion? Show me a news service that doesn’t have any opinion whatsoever. Even if you can show me one, there are plenty that do and are still likely considered news services in this case.

Is it about the format of the site? The ratio of unique news to commentary?

Content on the web is becoming more and more about who it’s coming from. Not the organization that publishes it. That’s why Google is using authorship markup, tied to people’s Google profiles. That’s why Facebook launched the subscribe button.

Do you think former TechCrunch writers Michael Arrington and MG Siegler (granted Siegler still contributes a column, but is not one of the main authors on the site anymore) are not getting their content out there to their audiences anymore without the news service brand of TechCrunch (or is that a blog?)? That’s clearly not the case if you follow tech news at all.

Are people that happen to post their content on blogs not considered journalists even if the majority of their content is breaking and/or unique news?

Of course many traditional news sites like the Wall Street Journal or New York Times also have their own blogs.

No, not all blogging is journalism, but if you ask me, not all so-called “journalism” is either. There just isn’t a clear line.

It’s about reporting what’s happening. It’s about credibility to some extent, but even that is debatable, because breaking news comes from average people all of the time via Twitter and YouTube. They’re not setting out to report news. They just do. Citizens sometimes give stories in their rawest, purest form. Is journalism about spin? If so, bloggers can do that too.

The point is it’s just not so black and white. That’s why news readers let you follow “news services” and blogs. That’s why people use Twitter as a tool for news. That’s why Facebook is making itself a better tool for journalists. That’s why Techmeme includes tweets.

News is news. Sure, people need to establish trust and credibility with the content they’re consuming, to sort through it all, and determine what is fact and fiction, but there are plenty of people to help us do that. Are those the real journalists? If so, consider that many of them are also bloggers.

What makes a journalist to you? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Here is some related reading:

NJ Supreme Court: Journalists’ Shield Law Doesn’t Apply to Message Boards

Google News Changes Launched, Blog Filtering Enabled

PR in a Blogger Versus Journalist World

Huffington Post Draws the Line Between Journalists and Bloggers

How Bloggers Can Find Journalistic Credibility

Can Trust in Journalism Be Boiled Down to Meta Tags?

Note: That image at the top is what ThinkStock, the stock image gallery thinks a blogger is. It was either that or two teenage girls sitting in a park with laptops. Seriously. Those were the only two options for “blogger”. “Journalist” had seven pages of results.


Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.