Are Bloggers Journalists?

One of the side effects of the episode of the theft of an iPad prototype and its revelation on a blog has been the discussion of whether or not bloggers are journalists and thereby offered protection of the so-called “shield laws.”  CNET’s reporters’ roundtable  video podcast discussed that topic last week.  The first portion of the 4/30/10 WNYC radio on the media podcast also talked about shield laws.  The laws in some states say that reporters cannot be compelled to reveal their confidential sources if they have offered those sources confidentiality.  They are protected by a “shield” of promoting the public interest in revealing crimes or corruption.  That also opens the Pandora’s box of the ethics of using “unnamed sources”, or not citing sources, or in the worst extreme plagiarism.  Most states also have libel laws, which are about defaming others publicly.  The liability of journalists or writers is a complex issue.

The traditional formats of journalism employ editors, proofreaders, copyeditors, fact-checkers, etc. to review a journalist’s writing both for accuracy and for libel.  Freelance writers, whether it’s online or in print, don’t expect that sort of review and are libel for their words and can be sued.  Of course, some of the nation’s major newspapers have been embarrassed by the revelation that the stories of some of their top reporters were pure fiction.  Instead of reporting human interest features, they made it all up.  But generally the line between news reporting and opinions (or editorials) is distinct, and the public understands the distinction.

In strictly literal terms, many blogs are not reporting “news” but are commentaries, essays, or in some cases pure gossip.  The old saw of “consider the source” certainly applies to what you read online, not only on blogs.  There is no “editorial review” of what appears on the World Wide Web, and quite frankly a lot of the content is pure lies or self-promotion.  Of course, there is usually a reaction to every extreme action or statement, but the reaction can be just as much over the top.  We’ve sort of tolerated “stretching the truth” in political reporting, implying that most politicians are liars, or at least don’t tell the whole truth.  But the philosophical issue of what is “truth,” and can journalists truly be “objective” is an unresolved issue even in journalism schools.

The fact that I have a master’s degree in journalism and 30 years experience is counter-balanced by the fact that I’m a novice in the blogosphere.  I’ve commented before on getting lost out in “la-la land.”  Can you assume from my background and experience that I have some level of critical judgment and that I’m not out to bamboozle you?  Yes, work experience counts for something, but it doesn’t automatically make you a “professional.”  I have an ABC accreditation, but that just means I passed a subjective test.  I’ve heard for years that people in various types of jobs defensively call their line a work a “profession” rather than just a trade, or craft.  For centuries only doctors, lawyers, and ministers were considered to be members of a profession, but the lines have blurred.  In our state, hair dressers are required to have more training than certified nursing assistants even though their work is not as critical or life-sustaining.  Does having an association with standards or a state certification test make a line of work a profession?

Obviously bloggers are not tested or certified, or in many cases, even read a lot.   Given the huge proliferation of blogs, a lot of them are simply people spouting off on their favorite topic, complaint, or issue.  I’m not qualified to comment as to what gives some blogs traction so that they generate traffic, or readership, and others do not.  Some have suggested that it is the quality of the content, consistency in posting, and staying on topic, but I’m not sure but that in many cases the more successful bloggers are simply better at self-promotion.  Some folks are better salespersons than others, more entertaining, or more outrageous.  My last post commented on the changes that are occurring in the transition from print publishing to online publishing and with the rise of self-publishing not only in blogs but also in print-on-demand  (POD) books.

Everyone has an opinion about something and has a unique story to tell from his or her life experience, but does that constitute a blog?  What’s your opinion?

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