Ever since doing my time in journalism school, I’ve thought about the rise of new media, and what it means for the press and for journalists — especially with the decline of “traditional” journalism, particularly print.
Over the last couple of weeks, my thoughts have turned with increased frequency toward this subject, since the Ninth Circuit’s ruling in a case involving a blogger. Basically, the court holds that bloggers are media when it comes to libel law.
Citizen Journalists and Comments on Matters of Public Import
We’ve heard about the rise of “citizen journalists” for a long time. Thanks to the Internet, it’s possible for just about anyone to comment on anything. If you have access to the Internet, you can share your views. You can write a 140-character tweet, or a 3,000-word blog post.
And, now, it appears that bloggers can enjoy the same libel law protections that members of the traditional media enjoy. This is a big deal, because proving defamation and libel against a member of the media takes a lot. It involves the examination of intent.
Granting bloggers/citizen journalists the same protective status enjoyed by trained journalists connected with institutional media means that bloggers have a little less to fear.
It also grants something of legitimacy to the world of blogging. This is something that I’ve struggled with myself. I’ve been calling myself a “professional blogger” for years, but no sooner did I own the term and release a book based on the term, did I change things up. I started calling myself a freelance journalist.
Even though bloggers are more visible and more accepted, the reality is that they still aren’t always viewed with the same level of trust as journalists. A journalist that needs the modifer “citizen” doesn’t enjoy the same prestige. I discovered that I can charge more for my services, and get higher-paying work by trading on my journalism degree — even if I don’t do a lot of what most people consider “real” journalism these days.
But all those titles don’t really matter anymore, at least when it comes to certain First Amendment protections (libel and defamation are considered First Amendment issues, even though they aren’t mentioned specifically). Now anyone has those protections, at least when it comes to matters of comment on public issues.
This ruling doesn’t affect federal and state laws that offer additional protections to members of the traditional, institutional media.
And the ruling doesn’t change the fact that there are still very real divides in terms of prestige, credibility, and public trust between citizen journalists/bloggers and people trained as journalists and associated with major media outlets.