Remember the joke when we – some of us – were kids? Here’s how it went:
My, my, but times have changed. Little in the 21st century seems black and white, including the roles and responsibilities of media, and communications in general. As for the definition of a journalist (and protections afforded to him or her), it may be simpler to point out the journalist who is also a blogger, rather than to point to a blogger and identify him or her as a journalist. And why are these distinctions significant?
According to a discussion on bloggers versus journalists, appearing on the New York Times “Room for Debate,” these definitions matter. And they matter a great deal.
As the result of a recent ruling in Oregon in which a federal judge has denied state shield law protections to a blogger, it’s impossible not to address the complexities (and pitfalls) of this online medium.
Thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia have adopted statutes giving journalists some protection against subpoenas, and in each case the question arises of exactly who is covered.
Professor Benjamin goes on to mention a 1964 Supreme Court ruling, from which we look at intentional “malice” when it comes to misrepresenting or misreporting facts about a public person or, for that matter, a private one.
As I understand the principle, absent malice, journalists are protected from being sued.
So what about bloggers? Bloggers aren’t reporters (necessarily), and nor are they journalists. Does that mean it can and should be a free-for-all? (Some might argue it already is.)
But should those writing in a blogging format be allowed to say anything and with little or no substantiation? Should we all be more circumspect – and worried about being sued – when it comes to living our lives so transparently through social media?
(And on a side note, don’t we carry this tendency into our real lives, with a growing tendency to reveal TMI?)
Another voice in this fray is attorney Kelli Sager, who asserts that bloggers should have the right to protections under shield laws (confidentiality of sources and documents), as well as retractions (to correct mistakes), thus placing bloggers beneath the same legal umbrella as mainstream journalists.
She contends that the medium is not the issue; the basic principles of free speech are.
Thinking through what I read and write, I find this entire area very concerning. We cannot expect bloggers to know what journalists or reporters learn, through education and experience. Nor should we exempt them, in my opinion, from understanding that some will read and assume accuracy, rigor, and expertise.
This discussion at the New York Times includes additional knowledgeable perspectives, and I recommend that you read. This conversation serves as a helpful reminder that we live in a litigious society, and what we say, how we say it – as well as our intentions – can easily be misconstrued. Moreover, taking explicit potshots (falsely?) to ruin another’s reputation can put the writer at risk.
I’m all for First Amendment rights, but ditto, when it comes to using our heads in a public forum.
I call myself a writer (and more)
I have been a journalist in particular fields; I have written for (print) newspapers, (online) media of various sorts, and (print) magazines. I consider myself a journalist, depending upon the circumstances.
Whether I am communicating for print or web, when in the role of journalist I exercise both caution and rigor.
I am also a writer, and a blogger. I try to exercise caution and rigor here as well – providing links, details, and elaborations where they seem appropriate. That said, I recognize both limitations (time, unpaid status) and freedoms (ease, convenience) that accompany the many purposes of web content.
- How do you define yourself, if you write on the web?
- Do you feel you must exercise caution when approaching specific topics?
- Do you identify certain people you read as “journalists,” and others as bloggers?
- Is this a matter of content, credentials, experience, or expertise?