Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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March 29, 2005
By: Kevin Drum

SHIELD LAWS AND OTHER VEXING CONCERNS....They say there are no stupid questions. How then do you account for the question, "Are bloggers journalists?"

LA Times columnist David Shaw wrestled with this quandary on Sunday with predictable results, and Jack Shafer and Matt Welch both gave him the dressing down he deserves. Not so much because Shaw asked a dumb question, but because his answer is mostly a series of variants on the proposition that traditional reporters are simply more deserving human beings than hoi polloi bloggers. This is journalism?

On the other hand, for the legions of bloggers who feel that of course they deserve the same shield law protections as professional reporters, I'm not sure this holds much water either. Shield laws are already tricky things, balancing a legitimate societal desire for aggressive newsgathering with an equally legitimate societal desire to ferret out wrongdoing in courts of law. The problem is that if bloggers get the same protection as mainstream reporters, that means that practically anyone can shield themselves from testifying in court on a wide variety of topics simply by operating a blog. The scope for abuse will become so broad that shield laws could eventually be tossed out altogether.

In other words, be careful what you wish for. The demise of shield laws would benefit none of us.

Tedious as the question may be, however, the question of bloggers' legal status is rapidly reaching critical mass. Chris Nolan rounds up all the various ways in which this and related issues are coming to a head these days and suggests that the common thread in all of them is, "Who's in Charge?"

In each and everyone of these cases, the answer is pretty much the same: The reader. The consumer. The voter. The music-lover. The computer nerd. But not the guys who have been in charge for most of the past century: The marketing genius, the producer, the editors, the station owner and the publisher, the consultant, the pen-wielding columnist who hasn't made a phone call in 10 years. They're not in charge anymore. And they don't like it.

Actually, I suspect that the old guard has a few more tricks up its collective sleeve than Chris gives them credit for. The top websites in the world are all corporate behemoths, after all, and Yahoo alone probably gets more hits than the entire blogosphere. I have a feeling that soulless corporate marketing departments are going to adjust to the 21st century just fine.

Still, adjust they must, and Chris and others are correct to point out that traditional gatekeepers are feeling the heat. The winners will be those who figure out how to swim with the tide and still make money. The losers will be those who demand that the tide turn back and then gurgle in amazement as the tide declines to cooperate.

Kevin Drum 8:39 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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