Does our Constitution protect bloggers? Should it?

Filed in Blogging , Journalism , LinkedIn 20 comments

My journalism students studied social media last semester, and I introduced the course with a blog post asking the question: “What’s one difference between a blogger and a journalist?”

One way I promote my articles is to post them on relevant LinkedIn groups, and this article is still generating discussions four months later:

 Does our Constitution protect bloggers? Should it?

The article was posted to more than a dozen groups and there were interesting discussions on several, especially MEDIA JOBS and ONLINE REPORTERS AND EDITORS.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating conversations evolved on the Media Jobs group where 30 comments have been posted and nine centered around whether bloggers have the same rights as journalists, especially in the area of libel::

 Does our Constitution protect bloggers? Should it?

One commenter, James Craig, wrote that he learned a lot from the discussion. Did you?

What do you think?

  • What’s the role in government and law when we post online?
  • Are you a blogger AND a journalist? If so, what do you think of bloggers who don’t “know journalism” and what rights do they deserve?
  • If you are a blogger AND NOT a journalist, where do you stand on these issues?

 

 

 

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Posted by Shari Weiss   @   9 June 2011
Tags : , , , ,
Comments
Jun 10, 2011
1:55 am

First, I believe the role of government and law regarding journalism generally should be unobtrusive, both in print and online, but allow for legal recourse when abuses occur.

I also understand government imposes some restrictions on the press when it comes to state secrets and classified information.

That’s largely how it is and how it should continue to be to maintain a free press. There should be little to no interference with communication of information or opinion

Regarding the second question, I am a laid-off journalist who has become a blogger, and I personally believe most of the criticism journalists have for bloggers is due more to the term “blogger” being nonspecific as opposed to it being synonymous with a broad pattern of non-journalistic behavior.

Some bloggers are pundits, still others write social commentary, others share their options, among many other offerings. I might note that many newspapers offered much the same variety before they started hacking away at their staff levels over the past 10 years or so.

The anger or disdain I hear coming from journalists toward bloggers seems more targeted toward a specific subset of bloggers who seem to have gained a level of credibility despite their apparent willingness to twist or even shred the truth if it helps them push their agenda.

These are the writers who put information out there as fact without bothering to check its veracity, or if they do check, don’t care. They frequently speak with an aura of journalistic authority or expertise despite the absence of any such training.

The bottom line: Some bloggers are no more journalists than some journalists are creative writers. That, to me anyway, seems to encapsulate the conflict.

From that perspective, I think its more of a branding issue – how to journalist brand themselves as a recognizable source of reliable information on a platform where opinions are not a dime a dozen, they’re na dime a million – or 10 million, for that matter.

That, however, is fodder for a whole separate discussion.

Finally, the Fourth Estate has no more rights under the law than Joe Citizen, although I think we in the media sometimes forget this truth. That means that a guy on the street has as much right to step up to the police line as the journalist or photojournalist.

And whether or not he is a journalist, Joe Blogger likely is a citizen as well.

Jun 10, 2011
4:26 am
#2 Paul Odtaa :

UK law, which is a lot tougher on the freedom of speech, can in certain circumstances hit someone in America.

In an on-going case a footballer, Ryan Giggs, got a super-injunction to block publication that he was doing a Tiger Woods type of extra-curricular activity.

The injunction forbid anyone to mention his name or who he was with. The injunction was broken by someone leaking the information on an anonymous Twitter account.

It now looks likely, even though Twitter is a Californian based company, that they will co-operate in identifying the individual, who could end up being jailed for contempt of court as well as damages by the footballer. (Shari you and I are safe now from legal consequences as the injunction has been lifted).

There have also been some very bizarre cases where someone has written something in America, clearly targeted at Americans, but because a few copies have ended up in the UK the aggrieved person or organisation, usually a business covering something up, have been able to start libel proceedings in the UK. These cases usually start at around £100,000 and normally cost half a million upwards in legal fees.

Our libel and slander laws do end up protecting quite a lot of activities that should be exposed. I’ve personally be on the sharp end of a threat of libel action where win or lose I would have lost my house and been bankrupted – win or lose – my mistake to report what I knew to be corruption to a government official – which effectively shut me up for two years.

So if you get any letters from UK lawyers do take them seriously – even in America.

I do believe that the government is going to reform the laws, but there are a lot of influential organisations who will fight any changes.

Author Jun 10, 2011
8:01 am

Paul, you point out one of the huge difficulties with “law” and “government oversight” in cyberspace when it is truly an Online World and we have no Global Court.

Author Jun 10, 2011
8:04 am

Ted, you hit the nail on the head. In actuality, the average citizen has the same right to “speak the Truth” as any journalist or blogger. Of course, another topic of discussion then [for a different blogger, probably,] is What is the Truth.

Author Jun 11, 2011
8:06 pm

LinkedIn Group: Online reporters and editors
Discussion: Do bloggers need to be protected from prosecution?

Posted by Colette Bouchez

I agree with Robert – the law is there to protect everyone equally. He is also right that the First Amendment does not protect you from being sued – as witnessed by the fact that newspapers, TV networks, magazines get sued quite frequently – some we learn about, many we do not.

But I do think that we, as a society, need a clearer definition of what is a blogger and what is a journalist – and that we as a journalism community need to take steps to educate the public about the difference. And that difference is not just between apples and oranges, but between Twinkies ( which taste good and we all need once in a while) and a real meal ( which is what sustains us) :)

In my opinion, most people blogging today ( and many people reading blogs) have no clue what being a journalist entails – though I believe that will likely change as the concept of blogging makes it’s way into the journalism classroom and people do learn the difference. But as of right now, most bloggers writing today appear to believe that publishing a story that people read automatically means you are a journalist – when in reality that story is often just the Twinkie in a world where good nutrition should be what we crave.

Author Jun 11, 2011
8:09 pm

LinkedIn Group: Online Reporters and Editors

Posted by Robert Dixon

These are fascinating threads. It appears to me, though, that people read far too much into First Amendment rights. The First Amendment guarantees the right to free speech, to publish. It does not single out any particular media or form of commentary; most of the options we have today didn’t exist when the First Amendment was written. Nor does it provide any protections from prosecution or lawsuits.

To my way of thinking, bloggers and “citizen journalists” are all entitled to First Amendment protections.

Where the mainstream media and journalism education make a difference is in helping practitioners to understand where the lines are. What constitutes slander? What constitutes libel? It’s important to verify facts and sources and to make sure you’re quoting people correctly, and all of that — but those are not First Amendment issues, They’re professional practices.

Sadly, at least in my view, too many purported journalists carry the notion of free comment to extremes. We’ve lost too much of our civility and trampled everyone’s right to a litte common decency and privacy in the rush to be first to Tweet the latest rumor of scandal.

In our litigious society, it’s pretty easy to get sued over what you’ve written, no matter the facts. It is, perhaps, too easy to intimidate a blogger because he or she doesn’t have the wherewithal to pay a lawyer. It is, perhaps, better to understand how to practice your trade without getting into legal shouting matches.

Having the First Amendment right to write about naything or anyone does not protect you from the other guy’s right to sue if he feels he’s been slandered or libeled.

Author Jun 11, 2011
8:11 pm

LinkedIn Group: Online reporters and editors
Discussion: Do bloggers need to be protected from prosecution?

Posted by Colette Bouchez

I agree with Robert – the law is there to protect everyone equally. He is also right that the First Amendment does not protect you from being sued – as witnessed by the fact that newspapers, TV networks, magazines get sued quite frequently – some we learn about, many we do not.

But I do think that we, as a society, need a clearer definition of what is a blogger and what is a journalist – and that we as a journalism community need to take steps to educate the public about the difference. And that difference is not just between apples and oranges, but between Twinkies ( which taste good and we all need once in a while) and a real meal ( which is what sustains us) :)

In my opinion, most people blogging today ( and many people reading blogs) have no clue what being a journalist entails – though I believe that will likely change as the concept of blogging makes it’s way into the journalism classroom and people do learn the difference. But as of right now, most bloggers writing today appear to believe that publishing a story that people read automatically means you are a journalist – when in reality that story is often just the Twinkie in a world where good nutrition should be what we crave.

Author Jun 11, 2011
8:16 pm

LinkedIn Group: National Association of Citizen Journalists

Discussion: Do bloggers need to be protected from prosecution?

There absolutely are different levels of bloggers. Some are experienced in reporting and recognizing the difference between the truth and propaganda. They work to refine their skills and want to inform others. Others simply blog to express their opinion. And yet others are absolutely reckless and don’t really care about the truth.

That’s one reason I become involved in the National Association of Citizen Journalists ( http://www.nacj.us/ ) and co-authored the “Handbook for Citizen Journalists” http://www.citizenjournalistnow.com/ ). I want these folks to do learn how to do it correctly.
Posted by Susan Cormier

Jun 22, 2011
10:52 am
#9 Dana Whitfield :

I don’t feel like a blogger and a journalist are the same and should not be treated the same. Although bloggers do make a lot of good points and do talk about important things, the majority of their blogs are just personal opinions. There isn’t a lot of research that goes into what they say, and most of their posts are not mainstream. On the other hand a journalist that may work for a newspaper or for the news, should have more protection because of the fact that their articles are spread out more public-ally.

Sep 4, 2011
11:47 pm
#10 Theuns :

Hi Shari

This is a interesting post and to see
all the responses,I am a blogger and share
things about Wisdom and how I see it and i love
to see when i open something to people
that they did not think about.

Thanks for the info.

Regards
Theuns

Author Sep 5, 2011
1:31 am
#11 Shari Weiss :

Everyone can be a blogger, but should everyone?

Oct 17, 2011
11:12 am

I believe that being blogger is something less “formal” than being a journalist.

Blogging has started as a form of self-expression and a type of diary and expanded into an online industry it is now.

This expansion has been so big and fast (I include Facebook, Twitter and other forms of modern ways of communication) that laws are still catching up with them. They can get dangerously close to censorship if we’re not careful.

Jan 10, 2012
10:38 am
#13 Megan :

Social Networking has been expanded for several year’s the scenario behind those development is not our government.. Its because of our brother”blogger” who discover and creates to maintain the level of expansion of our social net working…

Aug 7, 2012
6:33 am
#14 electricians :

That’s just the nature of the internet beast. It’s a fairly new venue and childish-thinking people have to mature enough to be able to handle it without making off-the-cuff and harmful statements that just pop into their immoral minds.

Aug 23, 2012
2:27 pm
#15 mybazaar :

I do believe that the government is going to reform the laws, but there are a lot of influential organisations who will fight any changes.

Oct 19, 2012
9:16 pm

This is an interesting issue. The laws concerning this issue is still vague and should be polished.

Nov 13, 2012
4:46 am

I think if bloggers will ask for protection from the constitution I think bloggers should also prepare from restrictions the constitution might impose in blogging. Keep in mind that in every right that we enjoy there is always a responsibility.

May 2, 2013
3:04 am
#18 Pitt Goumas :

There are similarities and difference between a blogger and a journalist. If you ask me, I’d rather be a blogger than a journalist :)

May 15, 2013
2:45 am
#19 Web Design :

bloggers write from the heart. Doh! Of course they cannot be bothered with proper grammar. Not like those journalists who just don’t have the passion. Oh, and bloggers can freely delete any idiotic statement they make. Apologies? Retractions? Not in the blogger (very very limited) vocabulary.

Feb 19, 2014
5:58 pm

This is very interesting. There is a lot more thinking and research that goes into journalism. On the other hand, you get more heartfelt thoughts, feelings, and personal experiences from bloggers.

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