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Call Them What You Will, Bloggers Won't Shut Up

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April 10, 2005|Rory O'Connor | Rory O'Connor is president of Globalvision, an independent international media company.

It's nothing less than astonishing that the mainstream journalistic community continues to debate the silly question: "Are bloggers journalists?"

Such online analysts as PressThink's Jay Rosen and Slate's Jack Shafer declared the debate dead months ago, but David Shaw's recent Media Matters column in The Times raised it from the grave. Shaw grumpily declared blogging "a solipsistic, self-aggrandizing journalistic-wannabe genre" that is not entitled to 1st Amendment rights enjoyed by "professional" journalists. If courts allowed bloggers "to invoke the privilege to protect confidential sources," Shaw puffed, "the public will become even less trusting than it already is of journalists."

And the courts are addressing the issue, which is at the core of a trade-secret suit filed by Apple Computer: Must bloggers who write about leaked product data disclose the identities of their sources at Apple or its contractors?

Corporate-media types contend that bloggers are inaccurate and irresponsible -- true in some cases. But what worries self-styled professionals most, I suspect, is the possibility that treating bloggers as journalists would either lower the profession's standards or make it easier for them to topple more Dan Rathers.

The inaccurate reporting of Rather and CBS News on President Bush's Air National Guard service -- initially revealed by bloggers -- and the careless comments of CNN's Eason Jordan about U.S. troops "targeting" journalists in Iraq -- also unearthed by bloggers -- did more damage to the profession than any blog I've read. And the fake journalist Jeff Gannon/James Guckert would still be lobbing softballs at Bush's news conferences if it weren't for such blogs as daily kos and AMERICAblog.

I'm a practicing journalist with three decades of experience -- who also blogs regularly. When I recently revealed on my blog (www.roryoconnor.org) that the corporate culture of the Swedish media firm Metro International is racist and sexist, and questioned why the New York Times Co. would join such a firm in a multimillion-dollar partnership, was I a journalist or a blogger? The story was picked up by Associated Press and carried in numerous U.S. dailies, crossed the Atlantic and appeared in the Financial Times and Le Monde, and led to the resignation of two top Metro executives, so it really doesn't matter.

What to say to the threatened members of journalism's professional priesthood? "No one owns journalism," blogging pundit Jeff Jarvis wrote on BuzzMachine. "It is not an official act, a certified act, an expert act, a proprietary act. Anyone can do journalism. Everyone does. Some do it better than others, of course. But everyone does it." Jacob Weisberg, writing for Slate, suggested that we "disregard all such self-interested whining.... If you don't like this raucous clamor emanating from cyberspace, you're not really comfortable with democracy."

Rather than fruitlessly debating whether bloggers are journalists, we should ponder how our newly transformed news environment can best function. Newspapers have a huge stake in this debate. Young people no longer get their news exclusively from the morning papers, evening network newscasts or other traditional outlets. Increasingly, they go online to find news -- and read bloggers that professional journalists deem so dangerous.

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