Are Bloggers Journalists?

The debate continues

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Are Bloggers Journalists?
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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.

Are Bloggers Journalists?
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  • http://makethemclick.com.au Mark

    Bloggers are not journalists and it is really naive to even think they are.

    Journalists usually have to go thru a three year tertiary degree level training before they are even allowed to start practicing.

    Then when they get a job, they are given the low level rounds to learn the practical everyday aspects of the profession. This is to protect everyone. Better to let them screw up here in a low risk area and learn something so that they know what to do later in their career where the stakes are higher.

    Of particular importance is the understanding of the laws relating to defamation, libel and copyright. Things most bloggers seem to be hopelessly and dangerously ignorant about.

    They are also taught the necessity to accurately attribute and validate their information.

    Plus they are required to present a balanced view of the issue, and not editorialize or simply sound off on the issue.

    Again this are practices that many bloggers simply don’t follow.

    (And yes I know that the gutter press, especially the British tabloids don’t always stick to these rules.)

    Plus there are professional associations that journalists belong to that among other things ensures that journalists keep their rating up and adhere to the industry code of behaviour.

    So like any profession there are a whole host of qualifications, training, checks and balances, legal and professional requirements that must be followed.

    If bloggers want to be taken seriously then they need to follow the same practices.

    Again, I know some bloggers do practice good journalism behaviour, but a large majority seem to be just venting their spleen.

    Also, saying journalists are a protected class is completely misleading.

    They can and do go to jail, as well as get heavily fined and stripped of professional accreditation for breaching any of the above mentioned items.

    If bloggers think this is “protection” then they are seriously uninformed.

    And finally journalism is a career.

    Blogging, for the most part is not.

  • http://www.mightyfleissradio.com Glenn Richards

    I think a blogger could be a journalist in the same sense they could be comedian, fiction writer, poet, philosopher, or critic. The only difference is the medium, i.e. an Internet blog vs T.V, newspaper, radio, magazine, newscast etc

    I write blogs like this one about SecondSpin.com which I admit is total fictional – my idea of a sense of humor about music matters I truly enjoy

    I write blogs like this Bic Sheaffer where I am blatantly selling a luxury product by PayPal on my Blog

    I write blogs like these where I am listing coupons – perhaps I’ll make a few bucks on LinkShare

    & I write blogs like these about my dishonest business experience I’ve had with GoDaddy.com who have severely wronged me by selling my confidential customers service information overseas to the Ukraine

    One of many…

    I like to warn others about their dodgy business practice to say the least, lest they screw others over too

    Partly I blog these event to vent my frustration at GoDaddy.com for getting away Scott free, partly so i have a record of events as they occur when I’ll need them, & partly to spotlight a warning, so others might be aware of the dishonesty of GoDaddy.com & choose another vendor like NameCheap or Host Gator instead

    Even though I know GoDaddy.com & Bob Parsons are closely associated with ABC, The State of Arizona, & The State of Indiana, I feel it’s just & safe to blog my experience with regards to my small business Inc. as it’s the truth.

    Consumers & small business should be warned about these business matters & pirates like GoDaddy.com even if it’s with what little tools my disability allows. My blog is my voice

    You should not be sued or silenced for telling the truth or standing up to the giants

    Journalism or not it’s freedom of speech

  • http://thebestlist.com.au Mark Fitzgerald

    Bloggers can’t be considered journalists just as private investigators can’t be considered police and first aid staff can’t be considered doctors.
    Sure they might be better at it in some instances, but we can’t just open the floodgates by expanding the definition like this.
    I agree with the Court’s ruling.

  • Peter

    Mr Crum, your writing and your thoughts are a muddle. The law clearly states who is and who isn’t a journalist. First off, a blog is not a real thing. It is a made up word that did not exist prior to 1999. Here is how Websters defines it: “: a Web site that contains an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer; also: the contents of such a site .” No mention of newsservice.

    No single person and be a newsservice…period. There must be an organization behind them. While a writer is working for the New York Times, they are a journlist. If they get fired and write something on the internet…they are one person writing thoughts…

    If everyone who wrote a blog had the power to say they were a journalist, there would be no checks and balance on facts, and anyone could lie through thier teeth. The courts got this right!

  • http://www.tellemgrodypr.com Susan Tellem

    Bloggers are sometimes journalists and sometimes not…but I would lean to mostly yes. This is an extremely tricky case because judges are not media people nor do they understand the intricacies of media law. When I worked on the Michael Jackson case, the judge enacted a gag order which the media lawyer fought hard against which was frustrating. I don’t think judges are qualified to make these decisions unless it is specialty of law that they are well educated in.

  • http://www.srajahiyer.sulekha.com S.Rajah Iyer

    A Journalist is a paid employee by someone,somewhere.a blogger is a devoted professional for a cause and he/she expresses a frank opinion!

  • http://www.tipsinablog.com Daniel

    That’s quite interesting.

    I would agree that many so called Journalists(Especially on Blogs) are too good at all. One Political Blog I was commenting on quite a lot, is known as the most popular Blog(Huge number of visitors, page views, page impressions) in the country. yet the person running the Blog had their credentials questioned on many occasions.

    The person would speak as if they were an authority on just about everything.

    Yet, they were often so far out with their information.

    In a few cases this individual had written up some very controversial posts.

    Due to their lack of professionalism(Too lazy to even bother to do proper research) they ended up on the losing end of court hearings.

    Many people just refer to this individual as an Opinionista. Which actually sounds far closer to the mark.

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  • http://www.imediass.in logeshkumar

    YES , All Bloggers are not Journalist, But depends on what kind of blog and what is the exp they have in journalism also should be counted.So what about high Pr press releases websites which is officially used and accepted through out world wide. what ever it may be blog or news channel website , Blogger or journalist who ever is giving news timely and help full to public will be highly appreciated. Now a days all news papers and media becomes more commercial, that to in india media penetration is more and highly commercial. they are not public friendly and money minded.

  • http://www.theinfochief.com JohnN

    I do not think that bloggers are journalists although I would never accept that anyone can be libellous with impunity. My position is that a blogger should be able to express an opinion no matter how much his or her opinion is disagreeable to any other party but in no way should a blogger just be able to disguise a liable as innocent opinion. Does that make sense? Whereas a journalist would never let the truth get in the way of a good storey -allegedly.

  • http://www.hobotraveler.com/blogger.html Andy Graham

    Yes, Bad ones, but truly columnist trying to covert opinions to facts. The monetization of internet pages does not allow for editots to filter out the back ones.

    A popular writer can fanagle readers by feeding lie to the public.

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  • http://www.ethanblake.com Ethan

    A journalist reports facts which should not be influenced by personal or here-say opinion. When that line is crossed, the written word becomes an opinion and not an unbiased reporting of facts. Fairly obvious I would have thought!

  • http://www.ctr4personalpower.com Paul Feiger

    I find the whole discussion disturbing. The 1st Amendment states in no uncertain terms that gov’t cannot regulate free speeach (I know about the shouting fire in a crowded theater). Blogs, like any other communicaiton medium (mouth, ears, electronic, etc.) is covered by that Amendment and no court has the right or jurisdiction to limit that right to free speech, no matter how stupid, egregious, or false that speech may be. Thanks.

  • Step Kingston

    There are very few journalists in America. Bloggers are far from journalists. At best they are invisible “media folks” Probably more like hidding talking heads.

  • http://lexikon-bildung.de/ Armin

    Yes, they are!

  • http://www.milojko.com A M

    Theoretically yes they are.
    Of course not all journalists(bloggers) are good journalists(bloggers).
    But they all like to mouth off.
    Don’t we all.

  • http://www.buckinghamecho.com Robert Cook

    Bloggers are obviously journalists. Start with the definition,’ daily account.’ As a card carrying member of the NUJ, and with time spent writing for papers and magazines, I can claim to be a qualified journalist.

    But newspapers and magazines are now part of the corporate state and interstate. Investigative journalism is pretty dead and young journos are as star struck as any wanna be X factor candidate. They have no nose or time to look for serious truths.
    So that’s where the bloggers get real because they sspeak from the heart, even though they may not have had the old fashioned elitist education that myself and ‘official’ journalists have had.
    Bloggers can show an edge- not for long though because severe interent regulation is already with us. Mainstream journalists are just in it for the money and maybe a job on the BBC, ITV, CBS, NBC and whatever else gets them seen and admired.
    My website is temporarily unavailabe, but should be back in the new year.

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  • TonyB

    Cox did herself a disservice by not seeking adequate legal representation. If she were reporting news and events, then maybe.

    The blogging question aside, the judgement also fails to state satellite television systems so I guess they are also not covered by this statute.

    If I were a satellite provider, I would be all over this ruling and lobby to have the statute updated to at least 1993 standards.

  • http://www.luvsiesous.com Wayne

    Great story,

    I hate to say this, but the easiest way is to remove the shield ….

    But, then who protects us against the Government? I know the media is not doing a very good job right now. But, that is what the shield is for ….


  • http://www.merrehill.co.uk/ Bim

    Bloggers are not legally Journalists but at the same time they can easily do the same job a journalist does and even better. To me it’s just investigating or finding out about something and reporting all the facts and information found – some with all the bias and opinion.

    Which i think fits in even more with bloggers as they have more freedom and avoid the bias of the media

  • Icarus

    I agree the issue of blogger versus journalist is blurred. But the court did find that her comments and blogs were not backed up by any facts she could support with actual evidence.

    Crystal published very strong accusations against Kevin, and then when faced with the requirement to prove them, she hid behind the shield laws. That is why the court found against her in a defamation case. She defamed another person and couldn’t/ wouldn’t produce evidence other than the mysterious source.

    A journalist understands that they need to provide multiple confirming sources and other evidence before moving a story to print. Its what editors do for a publication.

    For a blogger to say she, as a journalist, has the right to destroy another persons reputation without follow the journalistic code of ethics will lead to the demise of journalistic freedom. The backlash has already begun.

    I agree with the courts.

  • http://www.selidbebeograd.rs/ Selidbe Beograd

    You can’t call bloggers-journalists.That simply not true

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  • http://www.sciencelives.com Suzanne

    I have been writing for my web sites since 1995. Do I consider myself a journalist or even a professional writer? No. The reason is that I can post whatever I want on my sites, without an editor deciding what is good enough to be posted or not. Basically, a journalist has someone else checking their work, while a blogger is generally an independent writer, with no peer review process.

  • http://evsetia.wordpress.com evsetia

    Blogger is very different with journalist. Blogger in internet environment and so many thing they will write there. As we know internet is “another world” in our world.

  • Randy Altarejos

    Bloggers are considered “citizen journalists.” Otherwise, there is an alien term that can best described them other than this. Everybody must be aware that bloggers, not all of them, do not follow the proper “Ethics of Journalism” as most of their articles are loaded with opinions. But when a blogger operates in a democratic society wherein the freedom of free expression exists, I don’t think any blogger can be considered a non-journalist.

  • http://techmobility.blogspot.com Cristian Trohin

    The is not “Are bloggers journalists?”. The question is: does a blogger care if he’s called a journalist or not? Does it affect the blogging? If a blogger cares about the “journalist” label, then he’s definitely neither blogger nor journalist. He’s a wannabe. I am a proud blogger, and I couldn’t care less if I was called a journalist or not. Sometimes I think I’m better off being just a blogger.

  • T

    Just like this skank of america ad that keeps turning up on this website’s pages, we need to sever the ties between corps and judges.

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