Thursday, December 8, 2011

Just because I call myself a Journo doesn't mean I are one

This morning blogger John Aravosis, over at AMERICAblog, wrote about blogging vs. journalism after finding an article from AP about a ruling against an Oregon blogger who claimed protections as a journalist while fighting a defamation suit brought by a lawyer she called "a thug and a thief".

According to the AP article, a federal judge ruled that Crystal Cox ( from her website:  Investigative Blogger, Reputation Manager, Real Estate Broker Owner, Good Life International )  "was not a journalist and cannot claim the protections afforded to mainstream reporters and news outlets."

From AP: 
"The judge ruled that Cox was not protected by Oregon's shield law from having to produce sources, saying even though Cox defines herself as media, she was not affiliated with any mainstream outlet. He added that the shield law does not apply to civil actions for defamation.
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.
'What could be more mainstream than the Internet and the top of the search engine?' she said."
I predict that before this is over, every blogger who writes about politicians and public people will weigh in on this one. (At BlogHer, blogger LisaWasHere fills in some of the blanks, including the judgment: a whopping 2.5 million dollars!)   So here's my take, for what it's worth.

Some bloggers are journalists.  Some journalists are bloggers.  If a blogger wants to call herself a journalist, it's a free country and the blogosphere is about as free-wheeling as it gets.  But if you go so far as to call a public figure a thug and a thief, you might want to remember your journalistic standards:  You had better have some proof to back that up.

When I was writing columns and features for newspapers and articles for magazines, I had to submit bios.  If, in any of my clever little biographies, I called myself a journalist, you can chalk it up to my being new and full of myself and foolish enough to think that just using the word made me one.  (I would say I never did, but knowing that early me, there's probably at least one silly bio out there just waiting to prove me a liar.)

There are dozens of sources for journalism ethics, if any "investigative blogger" wants to make use of them.  The Society of Professional Journalists makes theirs public, and it's a pretty good one.  There are others out there for the taking, and they're not hard to find.  It's not about popularity, it's about digging out and telling a compelling truth.

I don't know what's going to happen to Crystal Cox now, and I really don't doubt that she has done some good work as a conscientious blogger, but I have to question whether high rankings in search engines actually adds to her creds as a journalist.  I mean--really.  That nutty assertion may have just lost the case for her.

Going by that line of logic, one might consider Andy Borowitz and websites like The Onion prime examples of true journalistic wonderfulness.  They both try to shine light on rotten politicians and public figures, they're good at it, and their rankings on Google are right up there.  (By the way, Crystal Cox's page rank is 2 points below mine at Ramona's Voices.  So much for that argument.)

(I loved this book. I don't have it anymore.  I'm going to ask for it for Christmas)
But the point of all this is that we bloggers do need to take stock of who we are and what we're doing.  Blogging is a brand new source of communication, and if the standards aren't yet written in a rule book somewhere, we have to go by our own gut feelings about ethics and responsibility.  We owe something to our readers, as few as they might be.  We are opinionists and muckrakers but we aren't necessarily journalists.  The differences might be vague at the moment, but all it takes is one judge slapping a 2.5 million dollar fine on one of us to get our attention. 

So can we talk about this?  It looks like it's that time.


Added 12/9:  As expected, there's much more to the Crystal Cox story.  Kashmir Hill at Forbes dissects the huge award and sheds light on why the jury thought it was more than appropriate:  It's here.  After reading the Forbes piece, the distinction between blogger and journalist takes a back seat to what would be really nutty behavior, no matter who's doing it.  Whew!

2 comments:

  1. I agree completely with you, Ramona. I don't consider myself a journalist, but I do take my freedom to write what I want seriously. I have come across stories that I thought were fun and juicy, but I do my best to confirm them before I post them. I may have a small readership, but that doesn't mean it gives me the right to post any ol' piece of dirt that I want. People can do that if they want, but I wouldn't feel right about it.

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  2. Thanks for chiming in, Beth. You're a blogger I would never have to worry about overstepping bounds when it comes to truthiness, or even ickyness.

    There's some real garbage out there and it's growing to landfill proportions. I don't see any remedies as long as the internet is free and easy, and that's exactly the way I want it to be.

    I'm glad this story came to light now. I'm hoping it'll start a good conversation about our roles as *opinionists as the blogosphere nudges aside the "legitimate" news sources, letting in a new breed of citizen reporters.

    *Opinionist
    O*pin"ion*ist\, n. [Cf. F. opinioniste.] One fond of his own notions, or unduly attached to his own opinions. --Glanvill.

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