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Why bloggers aren’t (yet) journalists

Filed in: media, politics, Tue, Oct 26 2004 11:15 PT

From: San Francisco, California

Dave Winer says on his blog that Judith Miller of the New York Times is wrong to withhold her sources in the face of a contempt of court charge:

Fact is, sometimes the public need for information trumps a writer’s guarantee of privacy to sources. Why should Miller be able to offer anonymity if a blogger can’t? The Constitution does not give special status or protection to reporters. The First Amendment applies to all, not just people with a press badge.

I’m sorry, Dave, but you just succinctly explained why bloggers aren’t journalists. Not yet, anyway.

Over the years, journalists have gone to the same extent as Judith Miller to protect their sources, risking contempt of court and jail time. If you are not prepared to go to jail to protect sources, you do not belong in investigative journalism. It’s bad enough that Miller is probably going to have her phone records gone over with a fine-toothed comb — an egregious invasion of privacy in itself — but she’s fighting for her liberty and her work at the same time.

Turning over confidential sources not only destroys your career, since one can no longer be a trusted mediator to the people who wish anonymity, but it morphs the journalist’s role to one of de facto government informant: a law enforcement official in disguise. Think about that for a moment before taking shots at Miller and the Times for defending that position. They are part of an increasingly rare group of people with the courage to speak to power. When you as a blogger, or when bloggers as a class, are willing to risk their freedom in an ethical stand to protect their profession, I think that even the journos will say you’re one of them.

But first you have to get what this is about. This is an act of civil disobedience on the part of Miller and the Times, and part of a long tradition of such. It is a means of protection of the free press. You as a blogger can do this, if you desire. But those who do, know that they are taking an unpopular position in the name of overall greater access to information, rather than acquiescing to government power. That is, it is “the public need for information” that is being satisfied by this approach. This is a good thing, even when in this case it doesn’t meet our expectations. Law enforcement has its own means of conducting investigations. Let them do it themselves, and let them leave the journalists alone.

One response to “Why bloggers aren’t (yet) journalists”

  1. John says:

    Well put.
    Its time the press stood up to be counted and renewed its long held traditions of being fearless and protective of its sources.

    The day they give that up is the day they loose all or any remaining creds.

    Thanks for the post

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