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Thursday, March 31, 2005

More about bloggers as journalists

The blogger-as-journalist debate rages on with this latest piece from Philip Meyer in USA Today. He writes about how MSM reporters benefit from the deep pockets of employers who will pay their legal fees and sign their paychecks while battling such nuisances in court as the use of confidential sources.

But two species of journalists — book authors and bloggers — usually lack that comfort. If you are a blogger, or are thinking about becoming one, you should worry about that.

Neither the freelance book author nor the lonely blogger typing away in a basement has that protection.

Meyer, who is the Knight Professor of Journalism at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and author of “The Vanishing Newspaper,” reminds readers that the record for time spent in jail to protect a source is not held by a member of the MSM, but by one Vanessa Leggett, “an unaffiliated and unpublished author who was investigating a murder case.”

Leggett spent 168 days in a Houston jail protecting her source and was finally freed when the term of the grand jury that wanted to know her source expired.

Meyer is yet another voice building the case that all Americans are protected by First Amendment rights.

There is neither sound moral nor legal justification for claiming that those who work for major news organizations have stronger First Amendment rights than the rest of us.

Bloggers are often compared with the lonely pamphleteers who flourished in the 15th century when printing with movable type was a new technology. Professional associations and support groups will make them less lonely.

In 2002, SPJ honored Leggett at its national convention in Fort Worth with its First Amendment Award. The SPJ Legal Defense Fund contributed $12,500 toward her legal expenses.
I’m proud to be a member of an organization that had the foresight to aid a journalist in need despite her lack of MSM affiliation. And I hope, as Meyer suggests, that other organizations also will embrace bloggers.

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