In Defense of Journalist Bloggers
This is a time of journalistic upheaval, from newspapers to radio, magazines to the Internet itself, and it’s raising a question that’s more important than location a source of income: what, exactly, is a journalist and when do they get legal protection? Gawker Media can be credited for possibly leading the U.S. to making a decision on this point.
With the rise of the Internet, questions have circled various groups on who is a journalist, what makes a journalist, and when they deserve legal protection – the discussions are as to be expected, with many Old Media publications and journalists sneering at those that didn’t climb the ranks for 20 years to reach their position, or go to so-called journalist school, and the Internet-based proclaiming their own high status.
The irony is that as Old Media continues to collapse, those very same institutions and individuals that once panned the digital world are now scrambling to embrace it – columnists now have not only printed columns but online blogs. Do these old school journalists get protection when they work online, sometimes exclusively? They’ll tell you yes.
There is no defending the dishonest and dirty tactics of Gizmodo/Gawker in the recent iPhone dustup, since they effectively bought stolen equipment and milked it for traffic, disregarding the fact that it was Apple’s property. Apple should have been contacted and the reporting presented in a more professional and straightforward, un-hyped approach, but, sadly, this is not uncommon for Gawker.
However, when Gawker was contacted by Apple, and the phone promptly returned, it should have ended any and all proceedings between the two companies – not followed by a court-approved search and seizure on the individual at Gawker responsible for the reporting. Ignoring the obvious questions of why Apple would push legal action after receiving their property undamaged and what the police expected to find at the blogger’s residence, it brings to the fore the fact this wouldn’t have happened with a traditional journalist at a traditional media entity.
Apple likely went after Jason Chen because he works for a blog network, and not the New York Times, entirely disregarding the fact that it was journalism – the media coverage of the new iPhone was essentially an enormous, free PR event, for which Apple usually works hard to achieve. Yet they seem to be upset. Gawker may not have the name recognition or legal muscle that some traditional Old Media outlets have, but that’s not an excuse to be abusive of individuals, corporations, and the law.
What it comes down to is the definition of journalism in the digital age: are bloggers journalists? The answer should be akin to a bit of mathematical logic, stating that not all bloggers are journalists and not all journalists are bloggers – with a catch. If this case goes to court, as it appears to be doing, the appropriate legal definition of journalism should be expanded to include individuals that work for online news organizations and those that participate in legitimate journalistic activities on a regular basis, with blogger status becoming finally irrelevant.
This situation has been at least ten years in the making, and it’s not entirely a surprise that Gawker, one of the most trafficked, hated, and beloved blog networks to ever exist, is involved. What comes next could end up significantly changing the digital landscape, for better or for worse – it’s important to believe that the courts will, for once, fully understand technology and its uses. If not, the reincarnation of Old Media will die right along with online journalism.