Media Blog

Bloggers as Journalists, Cont.

I’ve been exchanging e-mails with Corante’s Tish Grier regarding my post, “Blogging as Journalism” and Nate’s follow-up. Grier writes that she finds calling all bloggers journalists problematic, and I’ll concede that such statements might be too sweeping. But I disagree with her when she writes, “Some journalists are bloggers. Bloggers, unless they declare themselves, are not necessarily journalists.”

The problem with Grier’s formulation is that it leaves it up to bloggers to decide when they’re “journalists” — thus, for instance, protected by shield laws — and when they are “just bloggers” and thus exempt from certain ethical standards to which we expect journalists to adhere.
In support of her argument, she cites the case linked above: Apple v. Does, in which California’s Sixth Appellate Court ruled that the state’s shield law covers bloggers. Grier writes:

The California appeals court decided not to define what is/is not a journalist. In the U.S., journalism is not a licensed profession and therefore is not defined in a particular manner — which includes attempts by corporations such as Apple trying to define journalism in order to squash free speech. However, bloggers are protected by the First Amendment like journalists.

This strikes me as an unusual interpretation of the court’s wording. The court did not refrain from defining journalism — it refrained from defining “legitimate” journalism. That, the court correctly decided, is not a question for the courts.

Nevertheless, the court had to establish a working definition of journalism for the purpose of deciding whether the shield law applied. It went with “the gathering and dissemination of news”:

The shield law is intended to protect the gathering and dissemination of news, and that is what petitioners did here. We can think of no workable test or principle that would distinguish “legitimate” from “illegitimate” news. Any attempt by courts to draw such a distinction would imperil a fundamental purpose of the First Amendment, which is to identify the best, most important, and most valuable ideas not by any sociological or economic formula, rule of law, or process of government, but through the rough and tumble competition of the memetic marketplace.

In addition, legal definitions (or the lack thereof) are irrelevant to how journalism is defined by those who engage in it. After all, most of the ethical standards that govern journalism are not written into law. They are principles that journalists have devised to police their own industry. What constitutes journalism — outside the simple definition the California court used — should be decided, as the court wrote, “through the rough and tumble competition of the memetic marketplace.”

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