Sunday, March 4, 2012

Extra Credit Post: What is a Journalist?

We've spent a lot of time this quarter talking about the things that journalists do. In our last class, I'd like us to consider a question: Are all the people who do the things we've discussed worthy of the title "journalist?"

The question is about more than semantics. In December, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that a blogger in Portland was not a journalist, in a case that (coupled with others) could have major consequences. The Oregon blogger faces a $2.5 million defamation lawsuit filed by a company she has been investigating . She was seeking protection under Oregon's shield law, a law that protects journalists from having to divulge the identity of their sources in court. Her state's supreme court said she didn't have the credentials to qualify as a real "journalist." Read more about her story here and check out her blog here.

Also take a look at this story out of New Jersey, in which we learn about another case in which bloggers tried (and failed) to get the same legal protection afforded to traditional journalists. For reactions to the New Jersey case, click here and here.

So here is my question to you: What must one do to be considered a "journalist?" Or, perhaps more appropriately, what should one have to do to be considered a journalist? Talk in some depth about these questions, and consider the examples from New Jersey, Oregon and other places.

We will discuss your thoughts in class Thursday - you MUST participate in the group discussion to receive the full extra credit.


  1. Bloggers are not journalists, journalists are journalists. In a day and age that we live in, anyone can anonymously post things on the internet with no one to back it up, and people would believe it. States have shield laws to protect those who are trained to seek out the truth, and present it in a fair and balanced way. Otherwise, anyone can use these shield laws to take advantage of the law.

    Traditional bloggers do not have the same training, or schooling as a journalist. In order to be considered a journalist I believe one of these three requirements must be met.

    Shield laws are afforded to journalists because it is their job to help protect the public from the government and corporate wrongdoers. They are this little privilege in hopes that the country is better as a result of them. Bloggers simply do not have the same credentials as journalists. Journalists must strive to be balanced and fair because their reputation as a professional journalist is on the line, bloggers have nothing at stake and thus should not be afforded protection under shield laws.

  2. I think that the law is definitely in need of being redefined. A journalist does not mean the same thing now as it did when the Constitution was written. But, I think it's hard to categorize all blogs as journalism because clearly some of them are not. I agree with Alex and I think the person's training should definitely come into play. If Hale had a journalism degree while she was trying to expose the porn industry, her blog should definitely be considered a product of her freelance journalism career, and therefore she should be protected.

    Now more than ever the line between exposing someone for the sake of slander, and exposing someone for the sake of public knowledge is becoming increasingly blurred. I think that if Hale had waited until her website was put up to publish her information, her article would have had more credibility, and would have been less likely to have been challenged in court.

    I think the courts and state congresses are reluctant to make a law about online journalism that includes independent sources because they assume that since technology is progressing so quickly, by the time they pass the law the next new form of media will be invented and yet another law will be required. But I think it is important for these issues to be addressed now so that people with respected journalism degrees blogging independently do not get slammed with a $2.5 million court settlement.

  3. A "journalist" has the responsibility to the people to inform them on issues concerning the public opinion. Or at least, that's my definition for it. Honestly though, all of the scrutinizing over bloggers overstepping their boundaries seems a little silly with the constant change in the journalism world. One definition cannot rightfully be placed on a journalist when there are random instances in everyday life that present the opportunity for witnesses to play a journalist's role. Especially when considering a breaking news story.

    I definitely do not think that bloggers should be considered journalists though. After reviewing the Oregon shield law being put into play with Crystal Cox's case, I stand by that statement even more. An "investigative blogger" is not an investigative journalist. The same tactics can be used while snooping for credible sources, but that does not mean slandering a financial company on the internet without proper fact checking be considered accurate journalism.

    To be a journalist, one has to have the proper credibility to back up their story or accusations. Anyone can play the role of a journalist, however, not everyone can enforce the shield laws that are intact for personal gain. One should have to be consistently published in order to be considered a professional journalist. Someone who is always attempting to protect the public's best interest at heart and diving into situations that will benefit the story in a news media fashion. Not just some wannabe ex-Microsoft employee.

    Having the basic code of ethics required for every journalist to be familiar with is essential when representing the reputation as a journalist. The SPJ code of ethics can be referred to as an exceptional guide to follow: Seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable.

  4. I believe that the law needs to be adjusted. While it may be true that an 'investigative blogger' is not considered to be traditional media, I do not believe that the media is defined in the same traditional ways as it used to be.

    This is an interesting question. Society is entering new waters and no one is quite sure how to handle it. News and media have been growing in so many ways, it's becoming hard to define. In some parts of the world Twitter has become a key element in spreading news. In my opinion twitter is used in the same way as blogs.

    I agree with Annie when it comes to categorizing if any and which blogs should be considered journalism. Anyone with a valid email address can start a blog and write whatever he or she pleases. While Crystal Cox may have been blogging for a good cause, many bloggers just use the space to voice their opinions about anything and everything.

    I kind of have a problem with saying that one must have a journalism degree to be considered a journalist. I believe that there needs to be some kind of stipulation but I'm not sure that a journalism degree is necessarily it.

    I guess the main difference between bloggers and journalist in my mind is that journalist have a medium in which they can produce their work. And with that medium they are representing the people. Bloggers on the other hand do not necessarily represent the people in the same light. I think in order to be considered a journalist and to be protected under laws that protect journalist is you have to be affiliated with some sort of media that requires you to fairly represent the public. If you want to be an investigative blogger then you must register with some sort of certified journalism outlet that requires you to be held responsible for your work as a traditional news outlet would.

    News is not traditional in the way that it used to be, therefore the laws cannot remain the way that they used to be.

  5. I believe there is a significant difference between a journalist, a professional journalist, and a person with a degree in journalism.

    A journalist collects news and information and relays that to the public. A professional journalist does that as a living. Therefore, it is his or her responsibility. A journalism school graduate has the degree to prove all of the schooling and experience he or she has had.

    However, the difficulty arises when bloggers are brought into the picture. How are we supposed to “label” their level of expertise? The rise of the Internet in the past few years is creating this difficulty. How can we know that the people giving us the information are worthy of our trust?

    Generally, bloggers do not have the training and experience that many journalists do. For that reason, I believe that they do not deserve to have the same legal protection. However, I believe that there should be a law that supports them in some way. I agree with Anne that the law is due for a change.

    Obviously, there is a difference between people like Crystal Cox and a person that randomly decided to set up a blog. I think it is necessary that something is done soon to protect independent bloggers with journalism degrees and experience in the field.

  6. I believe that a journalist is someone who conveys the news to the public in an ethical manner. Journalists have senses of morality and they know right from wrong. Moral value is a very important aspect of being a journalist, because if they spread lies and defamation in their stories, not only does it make them untrustworthy, but also cruel.

    I definitely agree with Alex's statement that bloggers aren't journalists. I have several friends who have blogs, and one of them does it just for fun, because she was bored one day and decided to create a blog and share things on her mind to the public. My friends who have these blogs are education and pharmacy majors, not journalism. My friends with the blogs aren't necessarily conveying news. Journalists are educated about the field.

    I don't like it if bloggers were to consider themselves journalists, because they don't have the same exposure that people studying journalism do. A simple blogger might not even be able to define what real journalism is. They take advantage of the privileges that journalists have, especially the shield laws. I agree with Regina's statement that there should be a law to protect bloggers with journalism degrees, because they actually know what they are doing. The reputation of reliable journalists should not be harmed. This goes along with part of a statement from the New Jersey article, "otherwise, anyone with a Facebook account could claim the journalist privilege." Not everyone with Facebook accounts are journalists.

    Although certain bloggers may have a purpose for writing their posts, they can't immediately call themselves journalists. They need experience in the field as well as a passion for it.

  7. I do not think it is necessary to have a degree or training to be considered a journalist, but I do believe that there is a certain criteria that needs to be met for work to be considered journalism. I think limiting the title of journalist only to those with training in the subject is elitist excludes many people who have the same quality of work but might not have had the opportunity to pursue training in that field.

    I strongly agree with Stephanie that a code of ethics is needed for journalism because it sets a standard for work produced. All works of journalism should be fair, done for the public's interest, and credible. Crystal Cox, for example, should be protected under the law if she had legitimate information to back up her accusation of fraud, but not if simply writes without proof. That affirmation of opinions by having sources to back it up is an important distinction between what is and isn't journalism.

    To some degree, the medium is the message because different media outlets have varying standards. Having your work published at an established news outlet like The New York Times makes the information more reliable because those organizations have spent time building a history of fair reporting. If the same story is posted on a message board, like Shellee Hale, it becomes associated to all the other content on that board and site. While one story may be journalism, the surrounding work may not be and people need to take that into consideration since it might not be taken as seriously.

  8. A “journalist” is someone who gathers and distributes news and other information to the public. After reading all the articles, it is difficult for me to stand on one side or the other of this debate. I believe that to earn the title of journalist, there should be certain requirements. A degree is a good start, and other legitimate experience doesn’t hurt either. But what is legitimate experience? The fact that the court doesn’t consider just anyone as a journalist does makes me feel a little better about spending four years in college to earn a degree.

    Chrystal Cox and Shellee Hale were both sued for defamation over comments in an online forum, which I thought was very interesting. Everyone on Facebook needs to watch his or her backs. I had previously heard about shield law, but didn’t know the specifics. After reading all of the articles, I have to admit I’m a little confused. The fact that a federal judge in Oregon has ruled that blogging is not journalism, baffles my mind. Some legitimate journalists are also bloggers. The lines cannot be so cut and dry. The ruling simply says that bloggers are not justified of the moral and legal protections. With the developing technological society we live in each day these boundaries are going to blend more and more.

    Journalists adhere to a code of ethics. It is arguable that Cox and Hale certainly were not ethical and responsible with their so-called journalist responsibility. In the end I agree with Alex, bloggers aren’t journalists. But something needs to be done in order to protect bloggers with journalism degrees. The New Jersey Real Times article quoted Jim Lakely, the co-director of the institute’s Center on the Digital Economy.

    "Putting aside the wisdom of shield laws, they should not exist to protect only certain classes of Americans a court defines as ‘journalists.’ Freedom of the press is not truly free if the definition of ‘press’ is left up to the whim of a judge," said Jim Lakely.

    I could not agree more with this statement. I believe this is going to become a reoccurring issue in the upcoming years, and we will be seeing a lot more cases like these. The only solution is to set up a clear outline for what mediums and persons can and cannot be protected under shield laws.

  9. If you don't need a degree for journalism then why are we all here at Ohio University working our ways to becoming journalists? I think blogging is a great way to target younger generations but I agree that they need to be linked to a professional paper or other genre of news.

    I believe that in order to have the rights of a journalist, you must qualify to be one by having a degree or experience. Someone writing on a blog about their experiences is telling a story of their opinion or from another news source. Or if someone looks up information online and projects it through their blog, they are just advertising that source of news along with their opinion on it. I do not think this qualifies them as journalists.

    I indeed think that some bloggers are journalists but it depends on the blogger. I understand this logic makes passing a law difficult and confusing and I think this is why the court system is having so much trouble deciding on how to rule the decision.

    I don't believe someone who randomly sparks the idea to start a blog on something they are passionate about defines them as a journalist. To me, they are citizens using their freedom of speech as a way to connect with others.

  10. I'm really caught in the middle on this subject. There are three definitions for the word "journalist" on the Merriam Webster website: 1. a person who engages in journalism, a writer or editor for a news medium, 2. a writer who aims at a mass audience, and 3. a person who keeps a journal.

    If we are to go by the first definition, Crystal Cox would not be considered a journalist. However, under the second two, she could be. Posting something to the world wide web certainly sends the message to a mass audience, and I would argue that a blog could very well be synonymous with an online journal.

    The layout of her website was not very impressive or professional. It seemed a bit tacky and amateur, and we discussed as appearance in class as something we would use to determine a website's credibility. Her articles did seem very factual, but without any affiliation to any major news company, how can we be sure her information is credible? Also, if this was such a big scandal, how come no other media outlets picked up on the story?

    Overall, I would have to say Crystal Cox is not a journalist. She has no background in the field and there is no way to really know if her information is accurate. However, this does not mean that all bloggers are not journalist. Many journalism students and professionals have blog sites, where they break their own news that is not affiliated with a company or organization. These people have the background knowledge of media and news to know what is acceptable and what is not. Given their education or background experience, I would consider their blogs a reputable source.

    As for Shellee Hale, I would have never considered an online forum to be a place that would constitute someone as a journalist. In an online forum, anyone can post anything regardless if it has truth or not.

    In conclusion, I think a journalist is a person who has experience in the field or has a degree/is working towards a degree. I am working very hard to earn the title as "journalist" - it's not a title that should be given out to just anyone.

  11. I believe the difference between a blogger and a journalist is that the journalist is being payed by an organization to write. Anyone can hop on a computer and speak their mind, but a journalist has been educated on the techniques of proper writing. I believe that education and compensation are the two determining characteristics of a journalist.

    One should represent an organization in order to be considered a journalist. Today there are many grassroots journalists and bloggers who dance to their own beat and publish whatever they desire. If they were real journalists, then they should be subject to review by their organization and be held responsible for what it is that they write.

    As students of Journalism, it is in our best interest to label these bloggers as "non-journalists" so that our education works to our advantage in job searches. If not, people who haven't studied journalism could be taking our jobs and limiting our field.

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. In the first article provided in this blog post, a blogger attempts to be covered by shield law that protects journalists. I think that this is the first problem. At what point in her blogging and researching did she come across a degree or an affiliation with a legitimate news source that would make her work count as journalistic? At what point in her research were her findings published in a legitimate and credible entity? If at any point Cox is unable to prove that she can answer yes or give proof to the afore mentioned questions, her case ought to be looked into further. However, in the case that she cannot, this ought to be a lesson for other bloggers that claim to have a right to be judged as a journalist.

    If Cox wanted to be recognized as a credible source, much different than a journalist, the individual reader can read her stories and based on her sources, investigate more on the situation themselves. This way, Cox would still be doing a service to the public but still, she cannot claim to be a journalist. Finally, her claim that she cannot name a source is bad playing on her part. Not only is the question of "journalist" coming up, but so is the question of validity on a grander scale. Since she doesn't have the backing of a degree or affiliation, it looks bad that she can't prove all of her sources, and it looks worse that she is fighting in court to protect a "source" she refuses to prove is legitimate.

    Hale has her own skewed perspective on what being a journalism is all about. If being a journalist meant that we commented on porn discussion boards giving our person opinion, no one would need to attend, at the most, a four years bachelors program. Journalists wouldn't be held to any standard of truth or legitimacy and journalism wouldn't be an industry, it would be a gossip ring.

    Bloggers and commenters alike only would like to be recognized as journalists when it counts for them, but are seemingly incapable, or refusing, to do what is required to be known as such. Though there are many definitions of the word journalist, as Kailey pointed out, we should remember that we aren't arguing that the word has more than one meaning, we are arguing to protect one of the definitions.

    If a person desires to be a journalist that exposes corruption, scandal, and imperfections in society, by all means, allow them into the nearest journalism school and help them get a degree so that they can do what they really want. However, handing a person a journal or a laptop does not mean they are automatically a journalist just like handing a homeless person a $10,000 camera does not automatically make them a photographer.

  14. The definition of a journalist is hard to classify. Journalism as well is tough to fully determine--and in this regard it shares the same elusive nature as does literature. We've got those categories in which we can determine whether or not something warrants the title of journalism. It's timelines, its relevance, its impact, etc. But for one to be determined a journalist, is it not definitively easy to claim that they are, simply, people who write or produce journalism. In this regard, a blogger who creates journalistic content should be granted journalistic rights.

    These two cases, however, are tough ones. In the case of Crystal Cox, she was not granted shield protection because she was a blogger, not a journalist--or so many say, claiming that she was unfairly treated. However, in actuality, this case is much simpler, and journalist rights are not really relevant. As David Carr argued in a recent column, Cox's methods were far from journalist. She did not offer accurate information, she lacked proper research. Essentially, she was just defaming a man's character, making up lies about him in order to make him look bad, which would warrant a libel case even if it was published in a reputable source. As Carr states, "She didn’t so much report stories as use blogging, invective and search engine optimization to create an alternative reality." In this case, then, the difference between journalist and blogger is clear. She did not practice journalism, she merely sensationalized.

    In the case of Shellee Hale, the issue is also one of process. True, the case came down to the idea of where it was published. Hale's website was not even in operation when she made her defamatory comments, which were posted in a message board. In this regard, she was not protected, and I see no problem with that.

    Both cases lack proper support for the stories they covered. The defamation was clear. The only thing to determine, then, is whether or not they were to be deemed journalists, for the sake of their own protection. In both cases, the supposed journalists did not practice proper journalistic processes. They were simply random people out to tell their own sensationalized story, to defame someone or an organization for their own benefit. Where the information was published is irrelevant to me.

    In my mind, the proper way to determine if someone is a journalist or not should be focused not on the medium in which it was published, but on the process. If the person can make a proper claim as to having followed traditional journalist practices--getting information to back their story, getting sources, double checking their facts and presenting their information honestly--then they should be seen as journalists. I believe this will, eventually, be the standard in further cases such as those mentioned. It's the only logical way to assess the journalistic merit of a blogger, and with blogs gaining in prevalence, it will be inevitable that more and more cases such as these pop up.

  15. Just like firefighters or the police, journalists serve society. They act as a watchdog for their audience rather then physically protect them. They aren’t, however, funded and employed by the government. Their right to preform their duties are protected by the Bill of Rights and the US constitution, but news organizations remain unaffiliated.

    There is a grey area surrounding what makes a journalist a journalist, but there is no confusion about what a journalist should do. The Journalist’s Creed defines the role very clearly and college degrees in journalism offer further credibility and training.

    The bloggers mentioned above, however, are not trained in journalism but still investigate, report and publish reports that carry influence. But lots of organizations investigate and follow causes they feel to be unjust.

    For example, Erin Brokovich led an investigation into power plants that failed to properly dispose of poisonous water, a careless act they covered up despite the death of many community members. Although the case was followed by the media, Brokovich’s work was not journalism. Although she was helping society and bringing to light a grave injustice, Brokovich was working for a lawyer working on a class action suit against the plants.

    The intentions behind the investigation is what matters. Intentions are often rooted in biases; if there is a conflict of interest between subject and journalist then the assignment should be reassigned.

    I don’t view bloggers like the ones mentioned above as journalists. Though they do report and investigate like a journalist, they serve themselves more so than the people. Blogs gain notoriety through increased web hits and advertising, something nearly every popular independently operate blogger seeks.

    Upton Sinclair, however, author of The Jungle (1906) published a novel that famously brought to light massive corruptions within meat packing factories. Sinclair worked undercover in the factories as research for his novel which was so influential it led to the passing of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act. Sinclair is remembered as a novelist, former candidate for governor, political activist and go figure.... a journalist.

    The Journalist's Creed

    I believe in the profession of Journalism.

    I believe that the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of responsibility, trustees for the public; that all acceptance of lesser service than the public service is a betrayal of this trust.

    I believe that clear thinking, clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism.

    I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true.

    I believe that suppression of the news, for any consideration other than the welfare of society, is indefensible.

    I believe that no one should write as a journalist what he would not say as a gentleman; that bribery by one's own pocket book is as much to be avoided as bribery by the pocketbook of another; that individual responsibility may not be escaped by pleading another's instructions or another's dividends.

    I believe that advertising, news and editorial columns should alike serve the best interests of readers; that a single standard of helpful truth and cleanness should prevail for all; that supreme test of good journalism is the measure of its public service.