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February 4, 2005
Are Bloggers Journalists?
Nice piece by Randy Dotinga in The Christian Science Monitor summarizing the issues about to be argued as Apple sues two bloggers for spilling what Apple calls secrets. Dotinga's story focuses on the question of whether the bloggers may be shielded under California statutes that protect journalists.
That's obviously of no small interest to the bloggers being sued, but there are larger implications. In particular, bloggers may yet force the mainstream social consciousness to reconsider its view of what makes something news and what makes something reporting. This view has been under occasional challenge from places like the Drudge Report over political events, but these seem to fade as quickly as they burst on the scene.
Dotinga notes that the blogs' claimed readership puts them ahead of many recognized paper publications. So if it's not readership size that makes a journalist, perhaps it's the structure of a newspaper. But it seems antithetical to our notions of reporting to claim that unless your material is reviewed by an editorial board. Was James Madison not a journalist when he reported on the goings-on in Colonial America? I doubt he had an editor reading his broadsheets.
Perhaps then, the argument goes, bloggers are not journalists because they don't maintain the vaunted "objectivism" of mainstream journalists. If all they're doing is printing what they have opinions about then they're no better than William Safire... oops, scratch that argument.
Maybe it's about the money. Some bloggers talk about things and then take money from companies with an interest in those things. Oh, you mean like Armstrong Williams or Maggie Gallagher? Both of whom have admitted taking money under the table to promote Bush administration propaganda campaigns? We may call them bad journalists (no journalist biscuit) but we don't seem to have any doubts that they are journalists.
It seems to me that what gets under the skins of anti-blog people like Randall Bezanson, quoted at the end of Dotinga's piece, is that blogs fail to follow the familiar hierarchical model that has dominated American media for at least the last two centuries. I mean, really. If you let the people start talking to each other instead of lapping up the corporate consensus pap who knows what kind of trouble will follow.
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