Court ruling has major implications for media landscape

aaron square_0Today’s US district court ruling in Oregon aims to draw a distinction between “journalists” and “bloggers.” The decision is a bold move for the court, and a potentially impactful one for the national media landscape.

I am not qualified to opine on the legalities at play or what constitutes a “journalist.”

However, I do believe that failing to recognize the merits of blogging as a bona fide news medium – and in doing so, stripping legitimate bloggers of their rights as newsmakers – is cause for concern.

Today’s media climate is not what is used to be. Traditional news outlets tend to be understaffed with many of the journalists who remain overworked and – unfortunately – underpaid. For every meaningful story, issue or scandal that is reported, there are countless others that go overlooked.

Online journalists – bloggers, if you will – are able to fill the gaps, picking up where traditional outlets leave off and uncovering news that would otherwise be unreported.

Sure, there is a hierarchy within the blogger universe. I get that. A New York Times business blog carries more weight than, say, a homegrown blog by an upstart entrepreneur trying to make a name for him or herself.

But defining who is and who isn’t a journalist in black and white terms – essentially anyone not directly tied to a ‘traditional’ news outlet falls outside the realm of legitimacy – carries can air of subjectivity that threatens the journalistic independence lending bloggers credibility in the first place.

It’s analogous to discrediting the work of a musician who is not affiliated with a record label; criticizing an author’s novel simply because it has not been distributed by a major publisher; or questioning the validity of a painting or sculpture because the artist is not represented by a gallery.

Turning a blind eye to the role bloggers play in the media landscape (it’s not uncommon for mainstream reporters to piggyback on blog material with their own stories) draws a line in the sand that may not be necessary.

My opinion: let’s treat bloggers as journalists. Extend them the same protections that mainstream journalists receive when it comes to protecting the identity of sources; grant them access to events and press conferences open to newspaper and TV reporters. But hold them to the same standards when the truth is called into question. Hold them responsible when they commit libel. Request a formal correction when they get their facts wrong.

The past decade has shown that traditional journalism enterprises and peripheral blogs can coexist. Competition between the two is good for readers and good for the larger media landscape. Today’s ruling disregards the work of online journalists as ‘chatter’ when there are countless examples that prove otherwise.

Hopefully the appeals process will deliver a ruling that acknowledges this value.