Of Bloggers, Journalists, and Definitions

Let's hope it never comes to fisticuffs...

Last week, a story erupted the entire “are bloggers journalists?” debate:

A judge ruled in Oregon that a blogger based in Montana was not a journalist, as she was not affiliated with any specific media outlet, and therefore, not able to claim shield law protection from revealing sources in a defamation lawsuit.

The court fined the blogger a huge, freaking fine to boot—to the tune of $2.5 million dollars.

Upon first reading this article, I felt a little enraged because I wanted to root for the blogger.

The fact that the court allowed the $2.5 million fine of a regular citizen (and not someone who actually has that much money, like Bill Gates) leads me to believe this is little more than making a case of someone for the sake of argument.

But I kept my opinion to myself as more details bubbled up over the weekend regarding the details of the case.

Since last week, I can’t say I have as much sympathy for the blogger as I did before, although I still hold that the fine is ridiculous.

Part of my opinion was swayed by David Carr’s well-researched column in yesterday’s New York Times, where he points out the blogger’s pattern of vindictiveness.

No wonder the blogger in the case had a knack for criticism.

If there is one thing that blogging has opened the door to, it’s allowing anyone to voice their negative opinions about anything—from corporate entities, to restaurants, to customer service, to whatever-you-name-it. There’s even a blog about bad drivers in L.A!

But does black-balling a company or targeting an individual online with insults to their character the mark of a journalist?

Perhaps when it comes to political reporting, when things can get kind of messy.

All these details aside, it still doesn’t help solve the question of whether or not bloggers can be considered journalists if they employ the same news-gathering tactics and publish content for an interested public.

Think about it—if I could be considered a journalist by employing the same tactics, but with no affiliation to any news entity, then why did I bother studying journalism in college?

Why do we study anything if we can just get jobs based on experience and skills?

I know, there are a lot of rhetorical questions in this post. And per usual, I’m not coming across clearly in my opinion on the matter.

The reason being is that I can clearly see both sides of the argument, with maybe a little bias toward the journalists, because I paid good money to be trained and educated not only on the skills, but also on the ethics and law involved in journalism.

Maybe journalists can take a page from PR and attempt at developing a more clear definition of the position. It’s obvious that the current definition, if you look at Merriam-Webster, is open to interpretation.

The PRSA has started an initiative to define public relations, and it’s spurred a discussion among PR professionals.

It would be interesting to see a journalism professional organization follow suit, take up the momentum of this blogger case, and work toward a more cohesive definition of the term journalist.

Until then, it may be up to case law to define it, as did the judge in Oregon.

Either way, this discussion is far from over, so it will make for an interesting next couple of years as it churns some more.

What do you think, either of the blogger vs. journalists definition or of this case in particular? How would you define a journalist?

Image courtesy of this blog post on the topic of journalism vs. blogging.

December 13, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , . blogging, journalism. 3 comments.

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