Yesterday, the Atlantic reported that the American Ninth Circuit, ruling on a libel case, seemed to redefine all bloggers as journalists. There is some debate about what the ruling actually means–there always is–but here’s the substance of it:
The protections of the First Amendment do not turn on whether the defendant was a trained journalist, formally affiliated with traditional news entities, engaged in conflict-of-interest disclosure, went beyond just assembling others’ writings, or tried to get both sides of a story. As the Supreme Court has accurately warned, a First Amendment distinction between the institutional press and other speakers is unworkable: “With the advent of the Internet and the decline of print and broadcast media . . . the line between the media and others who wish to comment on political and social issues becomes far more blurred.” — Justice Andrew Hurwitz
Like the Atlantic, I think this ruling is best read as further eliding the legal distinction between traditional journalists and bloggers: bloggers should, and do, have all the same rights and responsibilities as journalists. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has been on this track for some time. Its Legal Guide For Bloggers has a section devoted to bloggers doing journalistic work, and in general, the guide treats the situation as though no real distinction exists.
Here at WWAC, we hold all staff writers and contributors to a code of conduct, and expect editors to keep abreast of legal and cultural developments that may impact our work.
For those of you who blog, or write for a scrappy, not-so-institutional, online publication, what do you think of the shifting stance of US courts?
Do you want to be recognized as a journalist, or to keep calling yourself a blogger?
And what, now, is the distinction between bloggers and journalists? Is it training? Practice? Mission statement?
We’d love to know your reaction to the ruling, and more generally, the cultural shift in the status of bloggers.