Friday, December 9, 2011

Bloggers Are Not Journalists

I have said it before and I will say it again: just because you publish a blog does not mean you are a journalist. A writer, yes. A journalist, no.

Journalism is a profession. The skills required to become a journalist come through years of education, either in a newsroom or in a university. There are certain standards which you much understand, certain laws which you must understand and certain style points you must include in your writing in order to see your work published in any newspaper or magazine. Despite your years of experience your work will likely still go through a thorough editing process to verify its content and check for errors. This process is lengthy and uncomfortable (nobody enjoys being judged) but it is necessary to ensure journalistic integrity is maintained.

Blogging allows you to circumvent the editorial process, yes, but it certainly doesn't make you a journalist. The same way that you cannot practice medicine or perform surgery in your home no matter how capable you are, you cannot become a journalist by calling yourself one.

This is not just my opinion, it is also an opinion repeatedly upheld by our judicial system. Bloggers routinely believe that because they have a platform and report news they are journalists and therefore are entitled to the same rights and protections afforded to journalists.

Unfortunately, this mistaken belief often causes bloggers problems when they find the proverbial rug pulled out from under them. They think the blog format allows them to libel others, especially public officials; believe that they can print rumor as fact and get away with it; and create doubt about someone's innocence or guilt just because they believe it.

Take my advice: Before you set up a blog and start calling yourself a journalist make certain you understand the law, your rights and what you can and cannot do under the rule of law. (You can thank me later.)

Crystal L. Cox, a blogger from Eureka, Mont., was sued for defamation by attorney Kevin Padrick when she posted online that he was a thug and a thief during the handling of bankruptcy proceedings by him and Obsidian Finance Group LLC.

U.S. District Judge Marco Hernandez found last week that as a blogger, Cox was not a journalist and cannot claim the protections afforded to mainstream reporters and news outlets.

Although media experts said Wednesday that the ruling would have little effect on the definition of journalism, it casts a shadow on those who work in nontraditional media since it highlights the lack of case law that could protect them and the fact that current state shield laws for journalists are not covering recent developments in online media.

Click here to read more about Judge Hernandez' ruling.

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