While the blogosphere continues to portray themselves as journalists, traditional professional journalists are panicking at the thought. These real journalists understand the balancing act of free speech and accuracy and objectivity in reporting. The essence of their credibility is the reputation of journalistic work as balanced, fair and fully vetted by editors and publishers. Most of the bloggers publish inherently unreliable and often false information if you hear the real journalists talk.
I spent some time in LA recently discussing the issue with several journalists, including true entertainment industry website publishers, and they have nothing but contempt for the blogosphere. They insist most bloggers are not journalists, but when they attempt to define legitimate journalism, they can't. Most journalists don't join their union, the education background of journalists varies widely, and there does not seem to be an easy description for legitimacy.
Here is why they are so worried: They are being lumped in with the bloggers in legislation before Congress that would create a bar to requiring the disclosure of confidential sources. And the bill is likely to fail, frankly, based on the inability of the journalists to explain to Congress how to draw a line between real journalists and the blogosphere. On the one hand, Congress is ready to protect confidential sources for journalists. On the other hand, extending such a privilege to the blogosphere (which by definition includes the mobosphere of miscreants and scofflaws) is unpalatable to Congress. So, the House of Representatives recently passed the bill but added a requirement that significant income be generated by the blogger in order to qualify for the privilege of not revealing confidential sources. My guess is that the bill will die or be gutted in the Senate, or in Conference Committee, unless the journalists can somehow create a clear distinction between themselves and bloggers.
Why is including bloggers such a big deal? Because bloggers will publish information that is defamatory or otherwise inappropriate or illegal, and do so with claimed false attribution to a third party, and then claim privilege when asked the source. Check out the Dozier Internet Law Blogger Defamation Issues for more insight on blogger defamation.
We recently found "Public Citizen", the Nader free speech and consumer rights group, recommending and linking to a description of how to get rid of evidence in website log files that would allow an aggrieved party to figure out who was responsible for third party blog posts. This type of advice is pro-blogger, but anti-journalist, and is one of the concerns Congress has in trying to pass this law but change the definition of its applicability to cut out bloggers.
Journalists are now realizing that they are known by the company they keep. If the blogosphere could dis-associate itself from the crooks, crazies and thieves then maybe the legitimate blogosphere could catch a break here. I don't see that happening, though.