Sunday, May 29

Blogging To Journalism

While it might not be new that a preliminary ruling a few months ago held that three bloggers who published leaked information about an unreleased Apple product must divulge their confidential sources, what is interesting is the growing pressure to define a journalist. Some are reporting that if the ruling holds, it will set a precedent because it will mean under the law bloggers aren't considered journalists and are not privileged to the same protections. Right. For about five seconds.

Media Law 101: 1. The First Amendment wisely guarantees, but does not define, freedom of speech or the press. 2. The Fourteenth Amendment wisely guarantees that any person within its jurisdiction shall have equal protection of the laws.

Neither amendment defines the press or 'journalists' as people who are affiliated with big media conglomerates or whose work is distributed on paper. Most dictionaries, however, do. A journalist is: 1: one whose occupation is journalism 2: one who keeps a diary or journal. And journalism is defined as: the collecting, writing, editing, and publishing of news or news articles through newspapers or magazines (and, as generally accepted, through broadcasts, which would include the Internet).

Despite this, one foolish judge seems to be sympathetic to court papers that claim that the people who run the sites targeted by the lawsuit aren't "legitimate members of the press," and therefore they should not be granted the same privileges as the press. Ahem. I hate to point it out, but none of the founding fathers of this country were "legitimate members of the press" either. Not one.

I looked it up. They were businessmen, lawyers, merchants, boaters, securities speculators, farmers, shippers, scientists, physicians, and minsters. Not one of them considered their primary occupation to be a publisher or journalist, yet they were the very people who wanted to protect the free exchange of ideas. That is what the First Amendment truly aims to protect.

The medium of publication, distribution, or circulation is irrelevant. Sure, I appreciate the angst that some journalists feel when they are cast in the same category as bloggers, but it hardly justifies treating the profession as a regulated field. Like it or not, a journalist is someone who shares their ideas or observations through publication or broadcast. This includes blogs.

Not to mention, at least one of the three named bloggers is considered a 'legitimate journalist' (whatever that means) outside of his Web log. And, in the larger blogging community, many notable bloggers have decamped from mainstream media sources or created their own blogs to write freely.

Sure, some blogs have also gained a reputation for inaccuracy, but inaccurate reporting and outlandish opinions are not exclusive to blogging. Those nasty little side effects have been around long before the printing press was invented and, based on the number of 'whoopsie' moments in the mainstream media let alone bloggers, are not likely to change in the near future.

It seems to me the real question people should be asking is not whether bloggers should be protected by the First and Fourteenth amendments, but whether they should be held to the same standards as mainstream journalists in regard to accuracy and libel. Maybe it's time they were, especially those that unjustly libel individuals and coworkers whenever they like. With freedom comes responsibility.

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