Apr 12, 2012

When Are Bloggers Journalists? "Simply put, new media should not be confused with news media," . Blogger Crystal Cox Disagrees, and says that New Media is the Real NEWS.

"Appeals Court Upholds Ruling That Blog Commenter Was Not A Journalist

from the too-bad dept

While lots of attention was paid to the claims that the confiscation of Gizmodo reporter Jason Chen's computer's would "settle" whether bloggers are considered journalists, the details in that case suggest otherwise. However, a much more important case on that particular question was decided late last week. It's the case of Shellee Hale, which we've covered in the past. Basically, Hale posted some information claiming a security breach at another company.

She revealed this information as a comment on another site -- and when she was sued, the company demanded she reveal where she got that information from.

She claimed that her sources were protected, as she was a journalist.

The court ruled against her, saying that because she had "no connection to any legitimate news publication," her own investigations weren't journalism.

That's troubling for a variety of reasons, especially given the wide latitude in determining what constitutes a "legitimate news publication." Hale appealed, and unfortunately, the ruling last week from the appeals court upheld the lower court's ruling:

"Simply put, new media should not be confused with news media," wrote Superior Court Appellate Judge Anthony J. Parrillo.

The court also claimed that her activities were not journalism because they "exhibited none of the recognized qualities or characteristics traditionally associated with the news process, nor has she demonstrated an established connection or affiliation with any news entity."

"However, the real battle seems to be over the attempt to determine how the woman, Shellee Hale, found out about the breach in the first place. She's refusing to give that up, claiming that she has a right to protect her sources, just like any journalist.

And while Hale writes multiple different blogs, and has written for many mainstream publications (including the Wall Street Journal and Business Week), Too Much Media claims that she doesn't deserve protections afforded to journalists because she wasn't working for any real publication and is just a blogger. The article quotes someone who says that if the court sides with Hale: "then everyone is a journalist and the privilege becomes meaningless."

I don't see how that's actually true. In fact, I'd argue the other way. It's not that it becomes meaningless, but that it becomes very, very meaningful -- especially in an era where we're looking for new ways to prop up investigative journalism. If everyone's a journalist, and everyone has a reasonable expectation that their sources are shielded, then we're much more likely to continue to root out corruption.

If this protection is somehow reserved for some "special" credentialed people, then it becomes that much harder to expose corruption.

Unfortunately, it appears that the judge in the case is almost entirely computer and internet illiterate, needing to ask for explanations for a variety of things during the court proceedings. He seemed entirely confused by the very concept of people blogging for personal interest:

"Why would a guy put all this stuff on a blog? Does he have nothing better to do?" Locasio asked. "Does he get paid?"

The judge, who apparently is about to retire in a couple months, also didn't understand the difference between blogs, message boards and forums, and was apparently unfamiliar with instant messaging.

It's difficult to see why someone entirely unfamiliar with the technology should be able to judge a case like this, where understanding what's happening online is crucial to understanding what the case is really about."

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