Hawaii to Decide if a Blogger is a Journalist

    May 21, 2007

There’s an interesting case, going on in Hawaii, that could have far reaching ramifications for bloggers.

Hawaii flag A judge has ordered Malia Zimmerman of Hawaiireporter.com to submit to questioning which would force her to reveal her confidential sources.

…Zimmerman, an editor and reporter for the Web site, says she is a legitimate journalist, not just some hack who offers half-baked commentary on the news of the day.

“Any journalist who gives their word that they’ll protect somebody’s information or keep them in confidence, you have to abide by that,” Zimmerman said. “It’s not the medium you publish in, it’s what you do with that information.”

Hawaii is one 19 states that does not have a journalist shield law, designed to protect a reporter’s confidential sources. If Hawaii Circuit Court Judge Gary Chang refuses to accept Zimmerman’s claim that she is a legitimate journalist, the ruling could set a dangerous precedent for other bloggers.

There are two sides to the argument. The plaintiff’s lawyer is trying to convince the judge that accepting bloggers as journalists would create a big loophole.

“It seems to me that if a blogger is a journalist, everyone can produce a blog and never be subject to a subpoena,” McCorriston said. “Are all bloggers journalists? It’s a question that’s never been answered anywhere.”

Meanwhile, Zimmerman’s defense has evidence to prove that she is a legitimate journalist, who happens to use a blog publishing platform.

Hawaiireporter.com covers politics and business news, frequently from a conservative or libertarian perspective. It began publication in 2002, and Zimmerman said she does not consider it to be a blog, which generally is a Web site that posts a mix of fact and opinion…Zimmerman said her work for Disney-owned ABC was part of her legitimate journalistic role.

There are a lot more nuances to the case, so I suggest you read the whole summary.

I’d like to think that Marketing Pilgrim would be able to claim journalist privileges, based upon the fact that we are a legitimate news source, regardless of the fact that the site is organized like a blog. However, I agree that you can’t extend that same privilege to everyone, just because they have a blog. The courts needs to establish some kind of criteria for what makes a blogger a journalist.

What criteria do you think should make a blogger a journalist?

Hat-tip to my spouse and expert on all things Hawaii!