At the J-School, we’ve been exploring the question of whether bloggers are journalists for a couple of years, in both classroom experiments and in conferences that have drawn fascinated/scared journalists and the blogging elite. The question might be boiled down like this: Journalists can argue that “if it’s not edited, it’s not journalism” — credibility comes down to trained research, trained writing, and trained editing. Bloggers, on the other hand, may argue that “if it’s edited, it’s not blogging” — spontaneity has been widely regarded as a signature trait of blogging.
But more and more mainstream publications are letting their journalists run blogs on the side (with or without the pub’s imprimatur), both with and without editorial oversight. And more and more bloggers are breaking news stories wide open, finding angles that mainstream journalists have missed (Trent Lott’s hateful past, Dan Rather’s slip, etc.)
The area gets even more gray when you consider that many blogs are multi-person efforts, and may have unofficial editorial bodies at work behind the scenes. There is nothing inherently unjournalistic about blogging – the blog is just a publishing platform. Whether “real” journalism is being done has no necessary connection to the content management system in use.
With the Apple law suit against ThinkSecret making front page, coming to grips with this gray area has itself become news. Traditionally, journalists have been able to use California’s Shield Law to prevent having to reveal their sources. At issue is whether the Shield Law also applies to bloggers. That is, what kinds of writing activity count as journalism, and which don’t? Because it would be almost impossible to come up with a satisfactory definition that wouldn’t exclude either A) thorough research/writing by bloggers or B) spontaneous reporting by journalists, we’re probably going to end up with an all-or-nothing situation: Everyone gets to lean on the Shield Law, or no one does.
My supervisor Paul Grabowicz, quoted in the SF Chronicle:
“Under the First Amendment of the Constitution, I would be hard-pressed to find any distinction between bloggers and journalists … There are some potentially really bad things that could come without any distinction. Principal among them is, if there is no distinction, things like shield laws that protect journalists go away, because they apply to everybody else.”
Chris Nolan of The Chronicle:
This is a big deal. The people who work in newsrooms trade lousy conditions and pay for power and influence. The people online who are now coming along are stealing the power and influence that people in newsrooms used to have. The newsroom has left the building.