Chris and I were talking about this topic earlier this week. And having met several people at Senator Corerra’s holiday open house, the subject came up again. Is TheLiberalOC a political news blog or are we an opinion blog, and are we bloggers, opinion writers or journalists? I think we could answer “yes” to every question,
Many of our posts meet the standard of any news story. Who, what, where, when, why and how are prominent in much of our coverage. And as a political blog with a lefty point of view, we do insert opinion. There are times when opinion is inserted into our stories. TheLiberalOC has press credentials issued by the OC Sheriff’s Department which grants us access to certain events like it does with the OC Register, LA Times or PBSSoCal and we are pitched by PR pros to advocate various stories.
There is no way for this blog to cover every story that comes out way; even the staff at the smallest weekly paper is bigger than our steady blog regulars. Like any publication or news outlet, we ocassionally get something wrong and we correct it. But the blog does adhere to journalistic principals. Chris and I regularly discuss difficult stories and often argue about what we can say and what we can’t.
This issue of bloggers versus journalists made the news with this story posted on Mashable on December 7. From the story:
As reported by Seattle Weekly, Judge Marco A. Hernandez said Crystal Cox, who runs several blogs, wasn’t entitled to the protections afforded to journalists — specifically, Oregon’s media shield law for sources — because she wasn’t “affiliated with any newspaper, magazine, periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system.”
The Obsidian Finance Group sued Cox in January for $10 million for writing several blog posts critical of the company and its co-founder, Kevin Padrick. Obsidian argued that the writing was defamatory. Cox represented herself in court.
The judge threw out all but one of the blog posts cited, focusing on just one (this one), which was more factual in tone than the rest of her writing. Cox said that was because she was being fed information from an inside source, whom she refused to name.
Without the source, she couldn’t prove the information in the post was true — and thus, according to the judge, she didn’t qualify for Oregon’s media shield law since she wasn’t employed by a media establishment. In the court’s eyes, she was a blogger, not a journalist. The penalty: $2.5 million.
The debate over whether bloggers are journalists has been going on for years, but the consensus has been largely settled — on the opposite side of what Judge Hernandez has ruled. Attorney Bruce E. H. Johnson, who wrote the media shield laws in next-door Washington State, told Seattle Weekly that those laws would have protected Cox had her case been tried in Washington.
In a more high-profile case, an editor from Gizmodo escaped criminal charges after revealing to the world an iPhone prototype lost in a bar. Although police raided the California home of editor Jason Chen in 2010, the case was cited as a test for that state’s media shield law, and the district attorney said publicly this year that no charges would be filed to anyone from the site.
If you go to Cox’s blog, she goes to great pains to paint herself as an investigative journalist. From her site, this description:
“I am an Investigative Blogger aka Investigative Journalist. ALL Calls, Voicemails, eMails, Text Messages, USPO Mail and ALL communications to me Will be posted at my discretion.
So, Mean What you Say and Say what You Mean.
If you disagree with a Fact I have posted .. send me an email that you do not mind me posting.. ALL Communications to ME in ANY Way.. will be posted at my Discretion..
I am an Online Journalist, a Whistleblower.. I TELL, Period.
Crystal L. Cox
Jay Rosen has a thought essay on the debate between bloggers and journalists and you can read it here. Some of the distinctions, especially by foreign press, are a riot to read. He writes: “Six years ago I wrote an essay called Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over. It was my most well read piece at the time. And it made the points you would expect: This distinction is eroding. This war is absurd. Get over it. Move on. There’s bigger work to be done. #
But since then I’ve noticed that while the division–-bloggers as one type, journalists as another–-makes less and less sense, the conflict continues to surface. Why? Well, something must be happening under the surface that expresses itself through bloggers vs. journalists. But what is that subterranean thing? This is my real subject today. #
And to preview my answer: disruptions caused by the Internet threaten to expose certain buried conflicts at the heart of modern journalism and a commercialized press. Raging at bloggers is a way to keep these demons at bay. It exports inner conflicts to figures outside the press. Also–and this is important–bloggers and journalists are each other’s ideal “other.”
And later in his piece, he offers these quotes:
As I write this, only half of the states in the U.S. now have even one full-time reporter in Washington, D.C. No amount of random blogging and gotcha videos can replace the journalism that keeps a government accountable to its people. If you’re a journalist, you already know that. If you’re the rest of America, chances are you have no idea.
Blogging cannot replace the watchdog journalism that keeps a government accountable to its people. Journalists know that, but somehow the American people don’t. Replacement-by-bloggers talk is displaced anger toward a public that doesn’t appreciate what journalists do, a public that would somehow permit the press to wither away without asking what would be lost. #
[Our] reporters work in difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions. They do not blog from mommy’s basement, cutting and pasting what others have reported, while putting it under a cute pen name on the Internet.
Instead, the Tribune’s reporters are out knocking on doors in violent neighborhoods late at night, looking for witnesses after murders. Or they stand in the morgue and talk to the families of the dead. Tribune reporters are not anonymous. They use their own names, put them at the top of their stories and are accountable for what they write.
Here, bloggers are anonymous creeps. Journalists put it all out there and risk their reputations. Kass isn’t instructing bloggers in what makes them suck. He’s speaking to readers of the Tribune-–and especially former subscribers–-who are safely asleep in the suburbs, while reporters investigate crimes and comfort the dead. You can almost feel his rage at the injustice of the Internet. #
Now many of our bloggers attend community events in person; if we can’t, and a meeting is streamed, we’ll tune in if we can’t make it personally. If we’re not there, we rely on established media reporting from a vareity of OC , SoCal and national media outlets with attribution. In my five years of blogging for this site, there is only one source I will no longer use because of a tip that wasn’t true that they insisted was.
Since blogs like this one are forums for discussion, what do you think? Do blogs report news accurately? Should legitimate news and opinion be mixed in the same post? Should even straight opinion blogs have a basis in factual reporting?
Now all this said, we’re approached by members of the public about blogging for this site. And we always welcome those who’d like to write for us. ut we have the discussion about how anonymous blog trolls are going to write about who you are, members of your family, what you do for a living, question your motives for blogging, or flat out libel you. You can’t do this if you have a thin skin.
The 2012 election cycle has begin. If you want to have a voice in it on this blog, feel free to contact me or Chris Prevatt.