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Journalists and Bloggers, how are they different and can we trust them?

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Journalists and Bloggers, how are they different and can we trust

We are entering a crisis today in that the advent of Internet "one to many" publishing for everyone has made differentiating journalists from ordinary people and entertainers too difficult. Who is a journalist and why do we protect them? Should Bloggers be considered journalists? Can either of them really be trusted on name alone? Are the protections journalists enjoy based on our trust, or do they empower us to trust?

Journalists do have some established protections in the law that are necessary for some publishing endeavors. One would think, at first glance, these protections would be needed for some kinds of blogging as well as the core issues of source protection and liability are the same. How can one work to establish trust with ones readership without these necessary protections? Of course blogging about your cat, does not apply in like kind however, this is a minor matter easily seen for what it is. Rather than work to define the label of journalist with more precision and thus continue to honor the implied trust that goes along with it, we should cast the question in a different light in order to better address the core issue of trust instead.

We should not be asking if Bloggers are journalists, instead we should be asking if they both are truly acting like ones in good faith.

Trying to frame the issue in terms of what you claim to be, introduces all kinds of tricks that make the law muddy and selective where the traditional protections for journalists are concerned. This is a mistake and will lead to bad law for everyone. It also serves to encourage us to trust without due consideration as well. Having the credentials equals trust in the eyes of many ordinary people. This too is a mistake.

Prior to the general availability of Internet "one to many" publishing, the act of publishing itself was closely tied to being a journalist in that being allowed to publish differentiated the journalist from an ordinary person. Somebody, entrusted with the printing press deemed the journalist trustworthy enough to publish. I am not completely sure that means the same thing today in terms of trust as it once did.

So where does that leave the issue at hand, namely; are Bloggers journalists or not and if so, are they entitled to the same protections we have traditionally granted professional journalists? How can we grant potential amateurs this same gift, sans the rites of passage and editorial review most professionals endure?

Clearly not all Bloggers are amateurs, but let it be said also that not all journalists today are publishing like the professionals they claim to be either.

Let's think about talk radio for a moment. Love it or hate it, it has got a lot in common with blogs. It's a one to many medium, just as a blog is. The host *is* the content as with the blog and the blogger. While it's true that not anyone can be a talk radio host, there sure are a lot of them and their quality, with an eye toward trustworthy journalism, sure does vary.

The same can be said of the bloggers as well. It is quickly becoming clear bloggers are seeing the same liability issues that talkers have had for years, which is exactly why the talkers all claim to be entertainers only. Should we treat blogs the same way? I don't think that's the right question. It's a popular one right now, but it does not properly address trust.

Journalists have an implied trust, and bloggers want that same trust. We need to sort how that really works out today, then let the labels of blogger and journalist fall where they may where implied trust is concerned.

In short, we should question the implied trustworthiness of our journalists just as hard as we do our bloggers.

To be clear, I'm not saying blogs are like talk radio and most talkers are not journalists. Anyone that chooses to mix opinion and news together falls into the same ambiguous territory. This includes me, the author of this essay, those who write columns, television hosts and many others as well. Talk radio was just an easy and relevant example, that's all.

On that note, it is clear to me that an increasing number of publishers are mixing opinion and news, but not the entertainment label to escape general accountability for the overall truth their statements might represent. Slogans, like "Fair and Balanced" or "News you can trust" are Orwellian in their implied journalistic trust, despite the actual program content being a significant mix of opinion and fact based reporting. How is this different from what the blogger does, or this essay for that matter?

Talkers have their niche and it works for them. Their listeners can choose to believe or not, either way they are likely to be entertained, if the content presented is relevant and engaging. Comedians and others all leverage the same basic ideals in this way. So it is with bloggers and journalists too, but maybe we all just don't know it yet.

On this note, the whole 'entertainment only' balancing act leaves the average American citizen with a very interesting, and I believe relevant, dilemma that speaks to the heart of this whole thing and that is:

we quite simply do not know who to believe using only a label alone anymore. Perhaps we never did, but are just now beginning to realize it.

Nobody wants to be lied to, but yet we hear lies each day from all our publishers, no matter their media of choice. Why is this? Are we truly entertained by lies so much of the time? Clearly we are, because the number of entertainers engaging in this activity is fairly high, all things considered. The key problem in my mind is that a lot of folks doing this on a regular basis consider themselves journalists, yet fail to engage in the activities that justify the implied trust that title grants them.

They have gone through their rite of passage. The study of ethics, source checking, fallacies, and other core things all combine to label a journalist as someone we can trust. Prior to the Internet this made some sense. Given a limited number of us are able to publish, those granted that right should honor the core public interest in the truth, where it makes sense to do so. We have editors whose job is to make that a reality, yet it just isn't happening on an increasingly large scale. Why?

I say it does not make anywhere near as much sense to continue these traditional assumptions surrounding journalists today because now any of us is able to publish. So what becomes of the journalist, are they now just entertainers like everyone else?

Look around, it sure seems to me that a fair number of them are just that. Poor reporting is rampant in our media today. TV, Radio, Newspaper and Internet all suffer from an increasing mix of opinion, self referencing facts, contradictory reasoning and other journalistic crimes. Again, how is this any different from what most bloggers do on a daily basis?

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The author currently lives in Portland Oregon and is interested in matters where society, the law and technology collide.

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