Last week a federal judge ruled that a Montana blogger must pay $2.5 million to an Oregon lawyer and his company for defamation, rejecting her argument of press freedom. the blogosphere was, predictably, not impressed.
Rebecca Rosen at the Atlantic says the question–are bloggers journalists?–is moot.
The idea that press freedom is about protecting journalists is anachronistic, something we have pasted onto an older idea. When Thomas Jefferson wrote about press freedom, the idea of a professional journalist didn’t exist in any modern sense. His ideas were motivated by the dual legacies of licensing and censorship. In the 17th century, censors regulated presses so tightly that only licensed printers could operate and they could publish only books explicitly approved by the queen. For Jefferson, a protection for a particular, favored business would have smacked of exactly the sort of licensing scheme he was trying to avoid.
…The age of the institutional media today looks like a flash in the pan, an aberration from the more-normal mode of citizen publishing. It’s not something we should seek to preserve artificially through laws. When we do, we end up trying trying to divine principles that can help us draw lines between journalists and everybody else. Well, what is their practice? we ask. Do they have sources? Do they have notebooks? Does this person look like a journalist?