Are bloggers journalists? The long view

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?

3 thoughts on “Are bloggers journalists? The long view

  1. If you read further on this, you will see that – journalist or not – the blogger was in the wrong. She seemed to have been engaged in a serious case of distortion, defamation and destruction of someone’s reputation, without any real evidence.

    See http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/12/business/media/when-truth-survives-free-speech.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all&ref=business

    Also from http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/12/why-we-should-stop-asking-whether-bloggers-are-journalists/249864/

    “As the details came into focus, journalists everywhere breathed a sigh of relief. She’s not a journalist; she’s just a crazy lady with WordPress! We don’t need to protect her. But the reason we don’t need to protect Cox isn’t because she’s not a journalist. It’s because, as Carr describes, her information was bad. “None of it was ever proved,” he says. If she had indeed exposed criminal wrongdoing and the Judge had not protected her, we should be outraged. But that’s not the case.”

    The “blogosphere” not being “impressed” was probably a case of them not reading and thinking about the full details before posting.

  2. @SB thanks for the extra links! It sounds to me like this Ms.Cox would never have been protect-able, journalist or not… Any person publishing misleading copy-paste jobs that so outrageously misrepresents the character of a person is committing libel. Professional journalists only enjoy “greater” protections in that they have fact-checkers and editors working with them to ensure they do not commit such crimes in their writings.

  3. I’m not sure this is the salient point. Sure she is a hack and a nutbar. But so are many journalists. Neither citizens nor journalists are immune from prosecution for libel and slander. I think the important and alarming aspect of this judgment was the court’s decision to even make the journalist versus blogger distinction, thereby obscuring and narrowing the intent of free speech and press protections.