Are Bloggers Journalists?

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?

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  • Reply Jenny Alvarado December 8, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    Personally, I agree for the most part that blogging is really a form of entertainment in which one can express their unique opinion, and should not be reprimanded by law (unless you are totally an ass and use your blog’s popularity to defame someone’s character, therefore suffer the wrath of the law of man). However, I feel there is a point at which a blogger must be held responsible for their prose/report/review/etc. Once you are paid a substantial amount for the posts you pen, or wpm, you then have a certain responsibility to the public that follows. This is now your career and much like any other job, you must be able to handle certain pressures and obligations to your audience and employer; including the legal ramifications that your words have stirred. In other words, I’m going to stick to publicly “voicing” my opinion in the safety of internet with privacy settings, because anyone who actually takes what I say personally or seriously should be committed.

    • Reply hipstercrite December 8, 2011 at 9:32 pm

      Excellent point, Jenny. I like your line about it being like any other job.

  • Reply Ben December 8, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    This is super interesting. This got me thinking that maybe we’re going to start seeing a new trend in the way blogs are viewed. Maybe people will start to see blogs as a new form of writing, rather than as a cheaper replacement for journalism (which is how I feel many lovers and haters of blogs both view them). The question of whether blogging ‘slander’ should be prosecuted in a similar manner to journalistic slander is a pretty big one, though, and I don’t know how I feel about it.

    • Reply hipstercrite December 8, 2011 at 9:33 pm

      I wish Mashable had links or quotes from the blogger’s posts. That would also help us understand exactly what went down.

  • Reply Dale Wilsey Jr. December 8, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    First off, she made a mistake in representing herself. I don’t quite see how she would have lost with a lawyer if a) the things she was reporting were indeed true and b) if she presented her article as a news piece and not a diatribe against the company. Regardless of whether or not she outed her source, if what she reported was in fact true, it is not libel.

    Also, as far as this particular statement goes:

    “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?””

    Shall we compare the NY Times with Weekly World News or other tabloids? It’s the same idea in my opinion. Just like you have hundreds of worthless blogs or blogs about nothing in particular that have no other reason for existing but to placate the needs of adolescent’s needs for attention, you have “news” papers which are nothing but rags and trash.

    Blogging should not be looked down upon by anyone as an inferior writing outlet. Is it so much different than compiling and distributing pamphlets? How does it differ from creating your own independent magazine?

    What it comes down to is content and value. Again, with the first comment up there, “if anyone can do it, where are the standards?”

    Well, anyone can write fiction. Anyone can write poetry. Anyone can write anything. Standards and worth are all subjective. One person may find the Twilight series the epitome of literature. I find it to be trash and worthless. Does that mean Stephenie Meyer isn’t a writer?

    • Reply hipstercrite December 8, 2011 at 9:34 pm

      I wonder why she did represent herself. Maybe she didn’t take the case seriously? Or maybe she thought she understood the law? I wish Mashable had some more information. You have excellent points, Dale. Many worth thinking about.

  • Reply Just Plain Tired December 8, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    I think blogging can be considered as journalism as much as entertainment. Depends on the content and subject matter. The one thing I do know is more and more companies are winning these types of lawsuits, along with companies firing workers over their blog content at times. You definitely need to be careful when a business or employer is involved.

    • Reply hipstercrite December 8, 2011 at 10:09 pm

      Very good point. I agree. I make a point to never write about my work or past work. It’s a dangerous game to play.

  • Reply John Wiswell December 8, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    I don’t think all bloggers are journalists, but the blanket question leaves me uncomfortable. There are absolutely independent journalists, trained, seasoned, traveling and stressing themselves for sources, who publish primarily through blogs. Some very gutsy journalism has come into the blogosphere from the Arab Spring, for instance. Mr. Barclay’s separation makes sense to me.

    What’s funny about the case you cited is that it makes me want to label all bloggers as journalists to defend people; to potentially be willfully wrong in service of an end. It’s touchy.

    • Reply hipstercrite December 8, 2011 at 11:15 pm

      You’re right. The word “blog” and “blogging” and “blogger” is constantly reshaping.

  • Reply Matt McGinnis (@MattMcGinnis) December 8, 2011 at 11:04 pm

    Good points made by Shelley, Michael Gray and Dale. I have a healthy respect for pro journalists and count on them to meet high standards of quality. Some bloggers don’t adhere to the same levels of factual rigor or integrity as pro journalists. Some do. I’ve worked with hundreds of journalists over the years and, like bloggers, some are excellent and some suck.

    I blog. I get paid to write for other publications. While I follow journalistic practices, I’m not a journalist. I’m a writer, a blogger.

    What’s the difference? Maybe only semantics? Journalist write only for entertainment value – People, OK, etc. Journalists posit opinions – The Economist, New York Times, etc. Journalists even include themselves in the story. Maybe they all just want to be bloggers.

    • Reply hipstercrite December 8, 2011 at 11:17 pm

      Maybe it is just semantics or personal opinion. I never considered myself a “writer” until I was making somewhat of a living doing it. Does that make sense to everyone? Not necessarily, but to me it does.

  • Reply Stefani December 9, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    I make my living as an ad writer, but journalism has always been “the one that got away.” I would rather have been a journalist, but could never see how people make a living at it. I would think if we let any ol’ blogger call themselves a journalist, it would make the career of journalism even more saturated than it already is, and more impossible to make someone a good living.

    • Reply Dale Wilsey Jr. December 9, 2011 at 2:35 pm

      What if we apply that sentiment to musicians and letting any person or group of people call themselves musicians?

      Nickelback and Ke$ha probably have no problem labeling themselves as such and, as a whole, pop culture and society, in general, call them musicians. Does it make their music [sic] worthwhile? Does it taint the label of “musician”?

      It all comes back to subjectivity. At the very basic definition of the word, the members of Nickelback are musicians. But, if we set up the comparison between Mozart and Nickelback, well, I think you know where I’m going with this.

      “Bad taste makes many more millions than good taste”. Look at the major news outlets like FOX and MSNBC. How many of those “journalists” on there can you actually consider “journalists”. There are no Woodward and Bernsteins. They all make a ridiculous living, though.

  • Reply Hannington Dia December 9, 2011 at 7:36 pm

    First off, as soon as I saw the title I knew I had to click on this. Moving on, I do believe bloggers can be journalists, and retain their entertainment value to an extent. For example, I did investigative stories on the scheduled closing of a grafitti museum in NYC and a website that lets college students hook up with sugar daddies.
    In both instances, I went through the trouble of interviewing pertinent sources, collecting facts and traveling to the locations to shoot video and pictures. I do personal blogging as well, so it’s a mix up.
    People also need to realize that print journalism is on shaky legs now. The internet is the industry’s future. Bloggers may very well be the archetypal 21st Century Journalists. And hell, look at the Village Voice’s blog, Runnin Scared.’ They have people who are both bloggers and journalists.
    But yes, a blogger can be a reporter in the right circumstances. Sorry for the long ass reply. lol

  • Reply Tony Russo December 9, 2011 at 11:06 pm

    What always astounds me is that no one discusses the editor. It’s only journalism if someone holds it up to a set of standards before it goes out.
    An editor stands between the writer and the audience and says (for instance), “These numbers don’t add up.” Or “Why would anyone read this?”
    The reason journalism is protected differently from speech is not because journalism has “standards” but rather it has a group of people who enforce them. Blogging will never be journalism for this reason: Someone writing journalism regularly has stories killed or altered to make them better, or more valuable, or less libelous.
    There is more to being a journalist than being able to write — no matter how well or passionately a person can do it. If the author is also the one who hits the “Post” key, they don’t deserve the same protections as a journalist, ‘cause they don’t have to go through the same publication process.

    • Reply Dale Wilsey Jr. December 10, 2011 at 2:01 pm

      What of those of us who have been editors? Those of us who have been trained in editing and finding these exact problems? Does your logic still apply?

      Or, what about blogs that have multiple contributors who report to one blog owner before posts are published?

      • Reply Tony Russo December 15, 2011 at 5:48 pm

        Having been an editor doesn’t help, I don’t think. I’m an editor (I’m not a good one but that’s a long boring story) but am not an objective judge of my own work’s quality, accuracy, or relevance because I’m a little too self-interested.
        The second one, though, blogs with multiple contributors and a blog owner? I believe that would count. I feel as it it’s the editorial process that separates bloggers from journalists, not the masthead. I would be interested in seeing, though, how much trouble an online-only news source with an editorial process has with shield law protections.
        The distinction, I think, is claiming you’re a journalist because you have a blogger account versus claiming your a journalist because you are part of a news-gathering apparatus.

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