Technology and Internet: Weblog Journalism?

Freedom of the press implications...

     What are we? We, who sit here at our desks and log into sites such as WordPress, Disqus and LiveJournal and publish our thoughts, observations and opinions on whatever is happening in the world…what are we truly? If we’re commenting on items of importance to the general public, can we refer to ourselves as “journalists”? Can what we do be considered journalism? In today’s technology-driven world where the internet has become all but a necessity, what is a journalist? What is the “media”? What now constitutes the “press”? Where are these monickers applicable, where are they not?

     The Merriam Webster dictionary defines “journalism” as being:

     1 a : the collection and editing of news for presentation through the media b : the public press c : an academic study concerned with the collection and editing of news or the management of a news medium
2 a : writing designed for publication in a newspaper or magazine b : writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation c : writing designed to appeal to current popular taste or public interest

     Here on The Cybersattva weblog, I would describe what I do as “Opinion and Editorial blogging.” I mostly take information that has already been presented by other mainstream news sources, parse it and comment on it, with the expressed understanding that what I am positing here are mainly my own opinions, save for facts that have already been vetted by the media, that are a matter of public record or that I can back up with e-mails, screen captures and hard-copy source documents. If there’s a retraction or adjustment needed somewhere down the line, I am always careful to make the corresponding changes to my articles.

     Now, by this point I’m sure that you, my fine young readers, are asking yourselves, “Why all this talk about journalism all of a sudden?” (Long, drawn out “Welllllll….”) I’ll tell you. Earlier this month in a federal courtroom in Oregon, District Court Judge Marco Hernandez awarded a 2.5M libel judgement to one Kevin Padrick, who is an attorney for Obsidian Finance Group, LLC in Lake Oswego. According to the court, one Crystal L. Cox, a self-described “investigative blogger” and real estate industry insider from Eureka, Montana published an article accusing Mr. Padrick of various improprieties during his involvement with payments to the creditors of Summit Accomodations. (I know, this one’s kind of hard to follow, but feel free to go back and re-read this paragraph again before continuing on. As per usual “SOP,” I’ll include source links down the line…)

District court judge Marco Hernandez

     In the course of rendering his verdict in the case, Judge Hernandez asserted that, contrary to Ms. Cox’s description of herself as a “journalist,” the monicker did not apply to her and that current Shield Law protections were inapplicable. Judge Hernandez wrote that;

“…there is no evidence of any education in journalism, any credentials or proof of any affiliation with any recognized news entity or proof of adherence to journalistic standards such as editing, fact-checking or disclosures of conflicts of interest.”(1) (2) (3)

     (SOAPBOX=ON) The problem I have with this whole thing is the apparent arrogance of the judiciary in seeking to define journalism in the new millennium, and its overall lack of understanding regarding the new media. In my not-so-humble opinion, while judges sit in their courtrooms and attempt to pass judgement on things that they don’t fully understand, we “netizens” are re-defining what constitutes the “media” in the 21st century. We merry band of bloggers, technicians and hackers are remaking the world, while people like Judge Hernandez are rapidly being left in our dust. (Hell, there’s technology now present that I’m even struggling to understand, and I’m a certified IT tech!)

     According to the Fox News article on the matter, Seattle blogger and sometime radio host David Goldstein chimed in with the following thoughts:

    “Just like anybody can claim to be a journalist, anybody can claim to be a blogger…and if you look at the court records, she really appeared to be neither. We’re in the business of criticizing people, that’s what journalists, that’s what bloggers do. So we have an obligation to be at least accurate with that criticism.”

     I would tend to agree with Mr. Goldstein, in that those of us who blog with any degree of seriousness need to do so responsibly. We are in the business of criticizing, not only people but also situations, governments, policies…whatever our little blogging hearts and keyboards seek to criticize! We bloggers would be well-advised to make sure our facts are in order, to be prepared to back up our statements, not to state opinion as fact and most importantly, to try getting all sides of the story before going to press. Where mine and Mr. Goldstein’s opinions diverge, is whether Crystal Cox is a blogger and / or a journalist per se. Perhaps Mr. Goldstein should go and check out Ms. Cox’s blog before coming to a conclusion on the matter. If Mr. Goldstein is trying to say that Crystal Cox isn’t a blogger because she wasn’t, in his opinion “accurate with her criticism,” then in my opinion Mr. Goldstein is all wet.

     Again this is my own opinion, but I’m sure that others would agree with me; if you maintain a weblog and post with any degree of regularity, then you are a blogger. Some people maintain text blogs, others photographic. The issue of defining “journalism” is a bit trickier. If one goes by the “Websterword” definition, if the blog in question presents items of public interest and if the blogger is indeed engaged in “the collection and editing of news for presentation through the media,” (the media in this case being the worldwide web) then that blogger could, quite possibly also be considered a journalist!

     Journalists have a responsibility to convey the truth to the public. When I say “the truth,” I mean the whole truth. If details are willfully omitted, then what results is not the truth, because a “lie of omission” is still a lie and poisons the rest of the dish. If we bloggers want to be seriously considered as being part of the journalistic tradition and profession, then we should adhere to the same disciplines that traditional journalists have since journalism began. In addition, we need to work with our legislators to modify existing shield laws, so that our endeavours can enjoy the same protections enjoyed by the rest of the “fourth estate.”

     As for the Crystal Cox issue, there were quite possibly some errors made throughout. Some “finger pointing” was done somewhere, perhaps without keeping in mind the old maxim, “Be careful when you point the finger, because there are usually three on the same hand pointing back at you!” There were apparently, assumptions made by the judiciary as to what constitutes the “media,” which as most of us living in the new millennium know, is rapidly becoming more than the sum of its parts, thanks to things like WordPress, Twitter, StumbleUpon, YouTube and the web on the whole. There are shield laws in place that are in desperate need of updating to reflect the nature of media in the new millennium. These things need to be brought out into the light of day, parsed, discussed and worked on.

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