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Bloggers Not Journalists, Federal Judge Rules 353

Posted by timothy
from the occupation-foole dept.
New submitter squideatingdough writes "On InfoWorld, Robert X. Cringely covers a recent case of a blogger accused of libel and defamation. The federal judge ruled that journalists warrant more protection from libel suits than bloggers, but it is obvious from the article that bloggers' rights can vary by state, depending on the 'shield laws' in force." Reader blindseer adds a link to this AP article on the case, and asks "If the government can define who is part of the press, and therefore gets First Amendment protections, then where does that place the freedom of the press?" The slippery slope is a steep one; even some relatively open societies require licensure for journalists (visiting ones included) with predictable results. (And the Labour Party would like to see a similar system in the UK.)
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Bloggers Not Journalists, Federal Judge Rules

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    It's just THIS blogger does not rise to the level of journalist.

    • by MikeyTheK (873329) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @12:51PM (#38304350)
      The decision does raise an interesting question, though - what makes you a journalist? Is it having an account on WordPress or Blogger? What about aggregators like Drudge and Slashdot? We see journalists espousing opinions all the time, frequently controversial - your local rag's editorial page is just such a place. I love the shades of grey.
      • by Skarecrow77 (1714214) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @01:16PM (#38304660)

        -Standard IANAL disclaimer-

        I am pretty sure that "libel" and "defamation" are separate from mere "opinion".

        examples (not necessarily indicative of my own personal thoughts on the subject)

        Opinion: I think Obama is a mediocre president who is failing in the campaign promises he made as well as failing to live up to the ideals he espouses.

        Libel: Obama is an antichrist muslim terrorist. He lied, cheated, and stole in order to get elected. He did so purposely to steal money and use his power to help himself and his friends get ahead at the expense of the common guy. He's an asshole, a racist, and a hatemonger.

        Now, discussing a position with as much power and as much of a public persona as the presidency of course, there is more leeway before slander laws come into effect. I'm pretty sure that the bar is set lower for discussing regular people, especially if the potential slanderer is doing so in a medium that may carry some legitimacy.

        • by KiloByte (825081) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @01:37PM (#38305020)

          Libel: Obama is an antichrist muslim terrorist. He lied, cheated, and stole in order to get elected. He did so purposely to steal money and use his power to help himself and his friends get ahead at the expense of the common guy. He's an asshole, a racist, and a hatemonger.

          A bad example -- outside of the UK, truth is an absolute defense when accused of libel :-p

        • by Dragonslicer (991472) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @01:55PM (#38305268)
          Even your example of libel is pretty borderline. Usually, it has to be something that is a clear statement of fact. An ordinary person would not think that you are genuinely accusing him of criminal terrorist acts, or that "lied, cheated, and stole" is meant to be a specific accusation. A better example of libel would be "Obama robbed my grandfather's grocery store in 1997." That's a definitive statement of fact (a specific criminal act, in particular) that either is or is not true.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 08, 2011 @02:15PM (#38305554)

          Obama is an antichrist muslim terrorist. He lied, cheated, and stole in order to get elected. He did so purposely to steal money and use his power to help himself and his friends get ahead at the expense of the common guy. He's an asshole, a racist, and a hatemonger.

          You know, if you're just going to copy from fox news, you could at the very least cite them.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 08, 2011 @01:30PM (#38304888)

        The decision does raise an interesting question, though - what makes you a journalist?

        It's the wrong question to ask. The right question is to consider each publication individually and ask whether it was journalistic. Someone's history or credentials should have no bearing on how they're protected by law. What should determine whether the law protects you is whether you follow journalistic standards in the publication of the story or article. Do you confirm the facts you present? Are you upfront about any bias you might have, including advertising revenue you receive? Even stuff as simple as whether your articles are checked for spelling and grammar mistakes. But the important part is that the standard is applied to work rather than to people. It shouldn't matter if someone has written Pulitzer-level work in the past...if they take shortcuts and don't adhere to a Journalistic standard, they shouldn't receive protection for that work. Likewise, if someone with a history of shoddy work produces something that meets the criteria, that work should be protected.

        Asking what makes you a journalist is akin to making an ad hominem argument. Being a journalist is reflected in your work, so you need only examine the work to determine when someone is a journalist.

        • by PyroMosh (287149) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @02:02PM (#38305366) Homepage

          YES. THIS.

          The same person can work for multiple outlets.

          Take Keith Olbermann. Regardless of what you may think of him, his career has had him all over the place. Should he enjoy the same protections on ESPN as he did on MSNBC prior to Countdown (which was more news and less opinion) should that enjoy the same protection as Countdown which is largely opinion commentary? What about his Twitter account?

          Most journalists will shy away from outlets that are not well regarded for journalistic integrity because they don't want to sully their own names via association. But just because it's rare, that doesn't mean that if a journalist DOES want to go work somewhere else that they should enjoy the same protections in both capacities.

    • by Hatta (162192) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @01:08PM (#38304574) Journal

      This blogger does not rise to the level of journalist, because she fails to meet this list of qualifications we expect traditional journalists to have. Very few other bloggers have those same qualifications, so they can expect to not be treated as journalists by this court.

      Defendant fails to bring forth any evidence suggestive of her status as a journalist. For example, there is no evidence of (1) any education in journalism; (2) any credentials or proof of any affiliation with any recognized news entity; (3) proof of adherence to journalistic standards such as editing, fact-checking, or disclosures of conflicts of interest; (4) keeping notes of conversations and interviews conducted; (5) mutual understanding or agreement of confidentiality between the defendant and his/her sources; (6) creation of an independent product rather than assembling writings and postings of others; or (7) contacting "the other side" to get both sides of a story. Without evidence of this nature, defendant is not "media."

      • by characterZer0 (138196) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @01:15PM (#38304654)

        (3) proof of adherence to journalistic standards such as ... fact-checking ...

        That rules out most professional journalists.

        • That's more true of national and international media, but less so of local and state. I would say that the real problem isn't so much the fact-checking, but rather the omittance of supportive facts. You have to understand news outlets such as CNN, Fox News, MSNBC are ran like any other business. Not only do they have journalists and anchormen, but members in marketing and other MBA types looking generate more revenue. So, I contend the notion that these mega-corps create controversy in improve the ratings.

      • by ifiwereasculptor (1870574) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @01:19PM (#38304704)

        (1) and (2) represent very problematic views about how you should be taught and sponsored by a filtering agent before you can have your say. (3), (4), (5), (6) and (7) are moronic wildcards based on technicalities that most "recognized news entities" from (1) disregard completely. I didn't read the original "article" and maybe it was just something along the lines of "yo dawg, I heard he lieks fags so fag his ass lol he suckz0rz b/c he's fag so fag he licks balls" and therefore borderline indefensible. Still, the reasons provided for stripping someone of a contitutional right seem, at the very least, short sighted, and at the most, incredibly idiotic.

        • by phantomfive (622387) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @01:55PM (#38305266) Journal

          Still, the reasons provided for stripping someone of a contitutional right seem, at the very least, short sighted, and at the most, incredibly idiotic.

          They didn't strip someone's constitutional right. You have a constitutional right to free speech, but you don't have a right to libel or defamation. If you publicly declare that someone is a crook and a thief, like this person did, then the first amendment will not protect you. You need to have evidence to support your claim.

          On the other hand, we as a society recognize that people who are in the business of digging up news will sometimes dig up information that makes people mad. And they will be sued with frivolous lawsuits just out of revenge. Congress has the power to grant them protection beyond the first amendment rights.

          If this woman had been able to show anywhere that she was in the business (paid or unpaid) of digging up news, she might have been eligible for protection. If she'd had any of the qualifications listed by Hatta [slashdot.org], she might have had an argument. But she had none. If there is absolutely zero evidence that she is anything more than a ranter with a blog, who wanted to insult someone publicly. And thus she was classified by the court.

          There are some parts of the legal system that are bad, but I think they got this one right.

      • by paiute (550198) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @01:33PM (#38304950)

        This blogger does not rise to the level of journalist, because she fails to meet this list of qualifications we expect traditional journalists to have.

        When the Constitution was written, there were hundreds of small presses producing hundreds of often one-page fliers/newsletters/libels daily. This was the environment of the day, and this was the press whose freedoms were not to be infringed upon.

        • by lee1 (219161) <lee&lee-phillips,org> on Thursday December 08, 2011 @01:54PM (#38305250) Homepage
          And in those days, as now, if you libeled someone and they found out who you were and were wealthy enough to get a lawyer to go after you, you suddenly joined the ranks of the destitute. The shield laws providing extra protection to bona fide members of the press are a modern invention. This protection from lawsuits did not exist 200 years ago. This judge just doesn't think they apply to this "blogger".
      • What qualifications would those be? The ability to rapidly spin stories so that they sound less critical of people in power? The ability to tap into voicemail systems and listen in on people's private messages and then later claim they had no idea it was wrong? The ability to take a good, solid beating from the police without complaint? Their ability to ignore hard news that people might find boring, and instead publish full-page articles about someone's cat finding it's way home? Their ability to acc
    • OF COURSE it's all bloggers. Our legal system operates on precedents; well, here's a precedent. Expect every lawyer with an axe to grind against a blogger to cite this case. Expect some lawyer out there to at least float this against a freelance journalist published in a 'real' publication.
    • by tomhudson (43916) <.barbara.hudson. ... bara-hudson.com.> on Thursday December 08, 2011 @01:22PM (#38304760) Journal

      Having read part of the blog, this blogger needs a course in basic writing. It may be hard to conceive, but it reads WORSE than many of the summaries here on slashdot.

      If instead of writing like a teenager posting on facebook or myspace, she had written articles that actually told the who, what, when, where, why, and how in a coherent fashion, she may have been able to avoid being seen as "not a journalist."

      If you're going to call someone a liar, whether it's in a blog or in print or on radio or TV, there's a right way to do it, and a wrong way to do it. The right way, you make your case point by point, you present your evidence in a fashion that is easily digested by the reader, and you present your conclusion that the person lied based solely on that evidence. Not speculation. Not "Did so-and-so lie?" That's just innuendo., and not protected.

      The judgment also points out that it helps if you can also show that you contacted the person before publishing, either to get their side of the story or to confirm the actual events.

      What Cox did was called "yellow journalism", originally known for the colour of the cheap paper the scandal rags were printed on well before they went main-stream at your local grocery checkout counter.

      • by jimrthy (893116)

        IANAL, but, AFAICT, speculation and innuendo most definitely are protected. "Real" journalists do that sort of thing all the time.

        e.g. Headline: Is Obama a Muslim? Story: Of course he isn't...

        Most people just read the headline. A few months later, their brains will have filtered out the smaller words and just remember "Obama, Muslim". That's one of the big reasons so many people today still believe he is.

        I don't remember the target, but I remember a long-running smear campaign a few years back. Some guy reg

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by PsyberS (1356021)

          I don't remember the target, but I remember a long-running smear campaign a few years back. Some guy registered a domain named something along the lines of so-and-so-is-not-an-idiotic-jerk.com then put up a website full of innuendo. Things like "Are the rumors that so-and-so molests children true? We here at so-and-so-is-not-an-idiotic-jerk.com don't believe them for a second. Anonymous sources claim that so-and-so enjoys torturing kittens, but we don't think those sources are credible."

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beck_v._Eiland-Hall [wikipedia.org]

  • Bogus (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 08, 2011 @12:46PM (#38304246)

    Allowing a government determine who is and is not the press is allowing the fox to guard the chicken coop.

    • by Z00L00K (682162)

      And when we have a Judge to decide who is a journalist or not - who is to decide if the judge is valid or not?

      • by dcollins (135727)

        The judge.

      • by Lumpy (12016)

        This is the problem with federal judges. They are appointed and are there until they quit or die. They are above the law.... no wait... They are the LAW! prepare to be judged!

    • those damn kids (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Thud457 (234763) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @12:57PM (#38304442) Homepage Journal
      Hell, Journalists aren't reporters these days.
      Reporters aren't reporters.

      They just regurgitate corporate press releases without any critical analysis. Since it no longer pays to report in the public interest, we're left with PR whores chasing $$$, opponents with an axe to grind and obsessed amateur sleuths on the web.
    • by Hentes (2461350)

      Which is why it's being decided by a judge.

      • by s73v3r (963317)

        Where does it say that a judge should be able to determine who is and isn't a journalist?

        • by Sir_Sri (199544)

          Because judges are, in the US system, the final arbiter absent any other definition. If some other definition is clearly stated in the law judges can apply that, but absent clarity, they essentially define the rules until congress decides it wants to do something.

          That isn't the only system in the world though. Other countries can basically kick a decision up to the legislature in some fashion (sort of like law lords in the UK, but even more direct than that). It actually does make a lot of sense that if

        • In the US, judges determine everything.

          Article 3 of the Constitution says so.

          The legislature creates law, the executive enforces/executes it and the judiciary interprets it.

  • Hacker's Creed (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nethemas the Great (909900) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @12:47PM (#38304256)

    Knowledge is power but he who controls the information reigns supreme.

  • by Smallpond (221300) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @12:48PM (#38304278) Homepage Journal

    Journalists don't have more rights than anyone else. Freedom of the press means that all people are allowed to publish their opinions. Thomas Paine was a blogger, not a journalist.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Yes, but the issue is can you offer protection to your sources?

      • by tomhudson (43916)

        Yes, but the issue is can you offer protection to your sources?

        You can always protect your sources - though it may mean spending time in the cooler ...

        However, doing so, and then getting thrown in jail for it, pretty much establishes you as a journalist in the eyes of the public, as journalists WILL go to jail rather than give up a source. So, you get your street cred, you then get access to better sources, and the next time there's no question but that you are a journalist.

      • Protecting sources (Score:4, Interesting)

        by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @01:54PM (#38305264)
        Yes, you can offer protection to your sources -- you can have your sources send messages to you anonymously. Use Tor, set up a hidden service and have your sources contact you via that hidden service. Part of the job of a journalist in the 21st century is to use whatever technical measures are available to protect the confidentiality of sources. It may come to the point of being imprisoned for taking such a stand, but journalists are expected to be prepared for imprisonment before they betray their sources. If bloggers are journalists, then bloggers need to start acting like journalists.
    • by Hatta (162192)

      Indeed. It's "Freedom of the Press", not "Freedom of Journalists". The Press is used for tabloids and fiction as well as journalism.

    • by Nidi62 (1525137)

      Journalists don't have more rights than anyone else. Freedom of the press means that all people are allowed to publish their opinions. Thomas Paine was a blogger, not a journalist.

      You left something out, though. Freedom of the press means that the government cannot preemptively prevent you from publishin something. It does not say that, once you have publiashed something that attacks someone, you cannot be sued for libel. The 1st Amendment says you can say whatever you want, but don't expect any protection from the government if you can't back up what you publish.

  • by alen (225700)

    most of the bloggers write up a summary with a link, this is not journalism. filming news happening and reporting on what is happening is called reporting the news.

    in this case the blogger deserves what they got. the news media goes out of it's way to say alleged and not call people thieves until they get convicted in a court of law. which is the way it should be

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by geekoid (135745)

      Most Journalist only write up a summary of events.

    • most of the bloggers write up a summary with a link, this is not journalism. filming news happening and reporting on what is happening is called reporting the news.

      in this case the blogger deserves what they got. the news media goes out of it's way to say alleged and not call people thieves until they get convicted in a court of law. which is the way it should be

      Then you're arguing that journalists do not need more protection than bloggers since journalists do the right thing anyway?

    • by s73v3r (963317)

      the news media goes out of it's way to say alleged and not call people thieves until they get convicted in a court of law. which is the way it should be

      This is the only part of your statement that should be agreed upon. The rest of it is nonsense.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 08, 2011 @12:48PM (#38304282)

    I don't know how I feel about the precedent this sets for "what a journalist is," but I'm definitely not weeping for this SEO-ing scumbag:

    Hernandez said Cox was not a journalist because she offered no professional qualifications as a journalist or legitimate news outlet. She had no journalism education, credentials or affiliation with a recognized news outlet, proof of adhering to journalistic standards such as editing or checking her facts, evidence she produced an independent product or evidence she ever tried to get both sides of the story.

    Cox said she considered herself a journalist, producing more than 400 blogs over the past five years, with a proprietary technique to get her postings on the top of search engines where they get the most notice.

    • by s73v3r (963317) <s73v3r AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday December 08, 2011 @01:23PM (#38304776)

      While the defendant is definitely a scumbag, I can't agree with the "standards" for being called a journalist outlined. Why do I need to go to school to be a journalist? Why do I need to toe the line to be hired by a news organization to be a journalist? And if checking the facts or getting both sides of the story are requirements for being journalists, most of the people on TV definitely can't be called journalists, and therefore don't deserve the protections of journalists.

  • Print out your blog posts and leave copies in some public space that allows such things. Congratulations, you're now a journalist working for a press organization and not a blogger.

  • Of course I am a Journalist. Here is my Journal.

    But seriously, from TFA:

    Defendant fails to bring forth any evidence suggestive of her status as a journalist. For example, there is no evidence of (1) any education in journalism; (2) any credentials or proof of any affiliation with any recognized news entity; (3) proof of adherence to journalistic standards such as editing, fact-checking, or disclosures of conflicts of interest; (4) keeping notes of conversations and interviews conducted; (5) mutual understanding or agreement of confidentiality between the defendant and his/her sources; (6) creation of an independent product rather than assembling writings and postings of others; or (7) contacting "the other side" to get both sides of a story. Without evidence of this nature, defendant is not "media."

    I don't see a lot of news media ticking many of those boxes these days, apart from #2.

    • by Spad (470073)

      Don't be silly, there's loads of "contacting 'the other side' to get both sides of a story", no matter how valid or useful their point of view might be and, if done properly, without allowing any kind of response after the 'other side' has had their say.

    • by forkfail (228161)

      Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

      Funny, I don't see any of those seven criteria listed in what's supposed to be the guidebook for these things...

  • "Freedom of the press" refers to the actual printing press machine, not the profession of journalism. This person's blog is, in effect, a modern form of the printing press. Not sure how a judge could miss that.
  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Thursday December 08, 2011 @12:51PM (#38304352)

    You're not a journalist unless you work for a print newspaper that's about to lay you off and go bankrupt.

    • by forkfail (228161)

      No, no, no

      You're not a journalist unless you're a corporate citizen who owns the media (broadcast, net, print, whatever) by which information is delivered.

  • So in America you only have more rigths to free speech if you are a journalist? It doesn't fit into the principle of 'equality before the law'.

  • by gnasher719 (869701) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @12:58PM (#38304454)
    The headline is "bloggers are not journalists", but there is a bit more to the case.

    Mrs. Cox wrote stuff in her blog that would be clearly libel if untrue, and clearly something someone wouldn't want people to hear if it was true. So she is in court for libel, and the defence against libel would be that she wrote the truth.

    Now she says that what she wrote is based on information from a source which she wants to protect. If someone tried to sue the unknown source for libel, then shield laws would protect or not protect that person, and whether she is a journalist or a blogger would make a difference. But it isn't the source who is sued, it is Mrs. Cox herself. And to defend herself, she would need to have evidence that she wrote the truth. If her only evidence is a witness who doesn't want to come forward, and whom she doesn't want to present to the court, then she has no evidence that the statements she wrote are true.

    Where shield laws would make a difference: If an employee gives a blogger or a journalist evidence that a company does something wrong. The blogger or journalist now _has_ the evidence. The company wants to take revenge and fire the employee. But here the situation is different; she can protect her witness all she wants, but if she does, she will go down for libel.
    • by binary paladin (684759) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `nidalapyranib'> on Thursday December 08, 2011 @01:13PM (#38304638)

      Wait a minute? Are you saying that the situation is more complex and reasonable than the sensationalist headline implies?

      No. Not here. You sir must be mistaken.

      (Thanks for your reasonable input.)

    • by s73v3r (963317)

      Mrs. Cox wrote stuff in her blog that would be clearly libel if untrue, and clearly something someone wouldn't want people to hear if it was true. So she is in court for libel, and the defence against libel would be that she wrote the truth.

      No, the defense against libel would be to have it proven that what she wrote was untrue.

      And no, she shouldn't go down for libel, unless it can be proven that what she wrote was untrue, and that she knew it was untrue before writing it. Simply saying, "That's libel!" should NOT be justification enough to require someone to reveal their sources.

      • by sribe (304414) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @02:02PM (#38305370)

        And no, she shouldn't go down for libel, unless it can be proven that what she wrote was untrue, and that she knew it was untrue before writing it. Simply saying, "That's libel!" should NOT be justification enough to require someone to reveal their sources.

        Exactly. The judge is not attempting to force her to reveal her sources; there has been no subpeona nor warrant issued. The judge has merely determined that 1) her completely unsubstantiated claim that a source told her these things does not in itself comprise admissable evidence; 2) one of her posts crossed the line from expressing opinion to presenting her accusations as fact; 3) the facts that she claimed, if untrue, could be liable; 4) since the the company she was accusing of criminal activity denies the accusations, there's grounds for that company's lawsuit to proceed. So, now, the company can attempt to do exactly what you propose they should be required to do, prove that she knew it was untrue.

        The ruling about whether or not she is a journalist is actually just a sideshow. She raised it, so the judge addressed it, but it's actually irrelevant. She is under the false impression that the law which might prevent her from being forced to reveal a confidential source, means that she can walk into court, say "a source told me so", and have that accepted as fact.

      • by Dragonslicer (991472) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @02:09PM (#38305472)

        No, the defense against libel would be to have it proven that what she wrote was untrue.

        Except that would frequently require proving a negative. If I publicly state that you murdered a young child last year, how is it at all reasonable to require that you prove that you didn't?

      • And no, she shouldn't go down for libel, unless it can be proven that what she wrote was untrue, and that she knew it was untrue before writing it. Simply saying, "That's libel!" should NOT be justification enough to require someone to reveal their sources.

        Nobody asks her to reveal her sources, if she actually has any. Remember the judge's point that it would be evidence of being a journalist if she had checked that what she posted was true? A proper journalist would have done that, and either found nothing, meaning the source was possibly lying, and would not have published anything, or found proper evidence and then published with the evidence backing it.

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Mrs. Cox wrote stuff in her blog that would be clearly libel if untrue, and clearly something someone wouldn't want people to hear if it was true. So she is in court for libel, and the defence against libel would be that she wrote the truth.

      In addition, in at least some jurisdictions the truth is not an absolute defense against libel. For instance, publishing a truthful newspaper headline of "John Smith has HIV" may be libelous if John Smith is just some random private citizen (this was especially true back when doing this would also be declaring that John Smith was gay).

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dhammond (953711)

      Thank you for actually bringing up the facts of the case!

      Of course, the knee-jerk response to "bloggers are not journalists!" is "some of them are!" The judge did not say that you can't be a blogger and a journalist at the same time. He gave seven examples of evidence that the defendant could have provided to prove that she was a journalist, and apparently she provided none of them. The article seems alarmist in suggesting that she would have had to provide all 7. Even someone that did not go to journal

  • official journalist status. Like a Dr.

    So to call your self a journalist you must:
    Check sources
    Make reasonable effort to remove bias
    Investigate claims.

    Make that journalism.
    No, I am not for only journals get free speech protection.

    And of course, the medium is irrelevant.

  • If that judge does not acknowledge bloggers as journalists, I do not recognize him as a judge. What an idiot.
  • by booch (4157) *

    The First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press, not of journalists. At the time it was written, "the press" meant "the printing press", not "people who write". So it means that people have the right to publish their ideas. It does not mean that certain people have the right to publish their ideas. So defining "journalist" should have no affect on First Amendment freedoms.

    Of course, if judges are too stupid or corrupt to realize this, then we're all screwed.

  • by Tastecicles (1153671) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @01:08PM (#38304576)

    ...insert a clause requiring licensing for journalists with the promise of protection - if you behave yourself.

    Read: don't criticise Government, and you're fine. Don't insult anyone with connections, and you'll be fine. Misbehave and your licence is revoked.

    The Government of the UK does this already. They have the power (and have exercised it [edgemediatv.com]) to revoke broadcasting licenses for anyone who goes public on a broadcast medium (TV, radio, newspaper) with information that can damage Government or those with connections. The Tunisian Government have also done this, only far more visibly [tunisia-live.net].

    Fortunately, there are those publications that are not afraid [ukcolumn.org] to present the facts as they emerge. The example given here is one that has a guaranteed readership of 1500 in one building alone (I do read the Column regularly, and have the desk numbers of the editors on speed dial).

    To give Government the sweeping legal power to shut down blogs on the grounds of controlling information or dealing with accusations by those it has already referred to "amateur, unlicensed and unregulated journalist types", is one more nail in the coffin of public information awareness - without which we cannot apply checks and balances on Government abuses of the voting Public, we cannot apply legal arrests when the Government commits assaults, murder and genocides on what it considers to be enemies, both foreign and domestic, and we cannot correctly apply our power and obligation to vote out bad Government whether at Election time or interelection following a vote of "no confidence" or an impeachment.

    Information is power. Information should not be the sole property of those with the legislative whip.

  • by dcollins (135727) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @01:08PM (#38304580) Homepage

    Here in NYC, the NYPD already has a licensing program for "official press". If you start asking a cop tough questions, they're liable to ask for your license. They also get priority seating in courtrooms.

  • by forkfail (228161) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @01:13PM (#38304640)

    ... it is no longer free.

  • by jcr (53032) <jcr@mac.cEINSTEINom minus physicist> on Thursday December 08, 2011 @01:14PM (#38304642) Journal

    The first amendment applies to all of us, not just journalists.

    -jcr

  • by perpenso (1613749) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @01:15PM (#38304652)
    From the article: "He added that the shield law does not apply to civil actions for defamation."

    So journalist or not she still would have been sued?

    From the slashdot reader comments: "If the government can define who is part of the press, and therefore gets First Amendment protections, then where does that place the freedom of the press?"

    Note that the first amendment protects your right to publish. It does not necessarily make you immune from all repercussions of what your write. There is nothing unconstitutional about suing newspapers for liable, defamation, etc. There may be a different level of evidence required for a newspaper vs a private citizen though. The question seems to be if a blogger does *not* act according to professional journalistic standards does a blogger get treated as a journalist or a private citizen making a public statement.

    From the article: "Hernandez said Cox was not a journalist because she offered no professional qualifications as a journalist or legitimate news outlet. She had no journalism education, credentials or affiliation with a recognized news outlet, proof of adhering to journalistic standards such as editing or checking her facts, evidence she produced an independent product or evidence she ever tried to get both sides of the story."

    Publishing does not necessarily make one a journalist. In the pre-internet era someone could write something and post it in a public forum (window, wall, light pole, etc), hand out their writing on the street, etc. Doing so did not make them a journalist. Simply being a blogger seems comparable. However if a blogger has had some training and acts like a journalistic professional then it seems the judge has left the door open to a blogger being recognized as a journalist.
  • by DerekLyons (302214) <`fairwater' `at' `gmail.com'> on Thursday December 08, 2011 @01:19PM (#38304706) Homepage

    Freedom of the Press and shield laws have never been absolute defenses against being an asshat. They're meant to protect the right to publish information and analysis, not personal attacks and character assassination.
     
    When you read the article, and more importantly the judgment, you find the summary is (as usual) more inflammatory than factual and that Cringlely is spinning it quite heavily. The judge did not find that bloggers did not rate protection, but that Cox by conducting a deliberate campaign of defamation was not acting as a journalist and thus by extension was not protected as one.

  • by soleblaze (628864) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @01:22PM (#38304752)
    I'd argue that even if you have that press badge and are considered a journalist they can still block what you have to say. The NYPD intentionally arrested 5 press badge carrying journalists when they evicted occupy wall street. The press were telling the NYPD that they have a press pass and a right to cover the story and the NYPD responded saying you don't have press freedoms here. When they tried to force the issue they were arrested. The LAPD also had a lottery limiting the amount of press members that could cover the occupyla eviction to 12.

    You also hear a lot of press saying 'we're being told we can't cover this' by the police and abiding to it. The police are considering their actions to require the same selective reporting that wars do. I'm not sure if this has gone on a long time and it's the first time I've seen the press talk about it so openly, or if it's part of the militarization of the police departments that we've seen since 9/11.
  • The protections given to journalists are not those of free speech - we already have those - but rather the shield laws that allow journalists to legally withhold information relating to the fact-gathering process. That's a weighty privilege afforded to few other professions and I don't think it should be handed out to every blogger or rag writer without compromising the court system and subpoenas.

    I would cautiously support a "Journalist License" because I think it would more clearly define the rights of
    • by forkfail (228161)

      Which is the death of the first amendment.

      Just wait till Homeland Security gets their hand in things.

      The whole point of a free press and free speech is to protect not that which is socially or politically acceptable, but that which is not.

      When you allow regulation of what is acceptable, you ensure that what needs be said will not be.

  • by MarkvW (1037596) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @01:28PM (#38304864)

    First: Anybody who cares can examine the Cascadia bankruptcy in the WD Washington and can read the Judge's order denying Obsidian fees because of an obvious conflict of interest. They advised the bankruptcy debtor in trying to sell property, while at the same time trying purchase an interest in that property for themselves. Kinda obvious??? I for one welcome any scrutiny Obsidian gets.

    Second: That judge would probably have granted First Amendment protection to a Revolutionary Era broadsheet editor-even if he shared the same ethical scruples as the poor fool lady in Oregon--notwithstanding the fact that the Oregon blogger has far more readers. Both the liberals and the original intent freakazoids are going to hate this decision.

    When this goes up on appeal every blogger in the USA can and should file an amicus curiae brief with the Court of Appeals. This is about Liberty!

    To the barricades! ;)

  • by KeithJM (1024071) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @01:46PM (#38305136) Homepage
    My understanding is that at the time of the Constitution being ratified, owning an actual printing press was the only barrier to entry to being a journalist. That's where the phrase "freedom of the press" comes from -- once you have a printing press, you can print. If you think about it, all that's really required to be a journalist is to keep a journal. The barrier of entry is gone to print to the public -- now you can do it from a public library's computer for free. That doesn't change the intention of the Constitution -- clearly they were saying anyone who can print to the public is allowed to print to the public, and their right to do so will not be abridged by Congress.
  • by msobkow (48369) on Thursday December 08, 2011 @02:19PM (#38305626) Homepage Journal

    If you're getting paid for your content, you deserve to have journalist's credentials and a press card from whoever is paying you. But if you're a blogger who only makes a bit of ad revenue, if that, from your site, then you do not deserve the same protections the press gets.

    Just because you want to be treated with the same respect as a professional does not mean you are a professional or that you deserve that respect.

    "If the government can define who is part of the press, and therefore gets First Amendment protections, then where does that place the freedom of the press?"

    I consider this argument flamebait, because it presumes that the bloggers are press, and as I've already stated, I don't feel that's the case.

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