Mashable featured an article today about Oregon blogger Crystal Cox who negatively blogged about The Obsidian Finance Group who in turn sued her for defamation. The blogger, who represented herself in court, lost the case. According to Oregon media laws she is not considered a journalist and therefor not protected. A large deciding factor in this case was that she refused to name an inside source who gave her information, therefore not able to prove her blog was truth. Her punishment for defamation? 2.5 million dollars.
Mashable utilized the story to frame the question- are bloggers journalists?
This is an age old debate that comes up time and time again. It’s a question I rarely think about because I do not consider myself a journalist, but as I delve deeper into the world of freelance writing, I feel this might become more pertinent to me.
My blog has never been a news source. It’s a personal opinion site. Are facts intermingled in there? Yes. Do I try very hard to do my research and make sure everything is correct? Yes. Once I wrote about the Bastrop fires from this summer,and made a math error in my statistics on what percentage of inhabitants lost their homes. A commenter pointed out that my math was incorrect- I was in the slow math in high school, for crying out loud!– and had to punctuate their point with “Nitpicky maybe, but I always forget whether blogging is journalism.” I pointed out to the commenter that I was indeed not a journalist and don’t pretend to be. I have no formal training in journalistic writing. Outside of my blog I have been getting more journalistic-type work where I work even harder to make sure the facts are right and where I have editors to double check.
My first reaction to the question- “are bloggers journalists” is “no”. However, when thinking more deeply about the question, I think it is too gray of an area to define. Journalists have blogs, former journalists have blogs, newspapers have blogs, bloggers may get work as a journalist through their blog, so does that delegitimize their writing? On the flip side, there are 12 year-old fashionistas and emo twenty-somethings that have blogs about nothing other than their clothes or relationships. Each blogger is unique, so how can we answer a question easily?
I posed this question on my Facebook page where I got some interesting answers.
Professional writer Shelly Seale responded with, “Personally, I don’t think so. I think people can be BOTH – a journalist can blog. I do both. But a blogger in and of itself is NOT a journalist. It’s like saying a person who dispenses home remedies is a doctor. If “anyone” can do it, where are the standards?”
Excellent point, right?
In response to Shelley, Michael Gray Barclay wrote, “Shelley, being someone who started a freelance career with blogging, some bloggers are journalists. It just depends on who you’re writing for. If I write a blog for entertainment value, then no. I’m not a journalist. But if I spend time researching facts for my posts (i.e. huffington post, the Daily Beast, etc.) then I consider myself a journalist. And, with social media and blogging becoming so prominent these days, things have changed with how “journalism” is viewed.”
He’s got a point too.
So who is right?
I don’t believe that there is a definitive answer to this question, instead we need to study each case individually.
And as for the case of Crystal Cox, maybe she should have gotten herself a lawyer.
Do you think bloggers are journalists?