Licensing Journalists?

April 29, 2010 W. R. Eilers No Comments

So as I try to play catch up.  (I believe I am two weeks behind while my wife pumps out 3 posts a daily).  I will make this short and sweet.  

Two days ago, stuck in the beautiful 395 East traffic jam, I listened to the NPR story on the Gizmodo v. Apple battle/tiff.  If you are not familiar with the case, I am not sure you are paying attention much on the interwebs and thus probably not reading my blog.  Just in case, here it is over at CNET.  the basic issues are 1) whether this was an illegal purchase of stolen goods; and 2) whether a blogger is protected by California’s shield laws.  For the moment, let’s skip right passed the stolen goods issue as I think even purist journalists would have a hard argument with that one.  Let’s talk about bloggers. 

Trust me, as I delve into this thought, I am no where close to novel or unique in my questioning of blogs versus journalism.  This debate has been going on for sometime stemming from some of the first bloggers and news content relay providers.  My issue is in the subjective and time and place driven defense of blogging and its integrity.  If the scenario is one likened to the Gizmodo ordeal, the blogger claims journalist immunity.  However, if there is a case for libel or a complaint about the truthfulness and bias of a blog, the blogger explains that they are not a journalist.  So which is it?  I know, I know, both are sometimes true, but for practical reasons, should we be able to distinguish.  As attorneys, we are often face with the black and white versus sliding scale models of legal standards.  Both have there less than attractive sides depending how it is being applied.  This, however, is not true when it comes to professional license.  In fact, the rules and regulations are pretty clear.  You either have a license or you don’t.  

Without getting into the issues of persons acting outside as if they had a license when they don’t, my suggestion is to take a look at the professional license model and apply it to journalists.  If you are licensed, you get the benefit of shield laws.  If you aren’t, then hire an attorney.   Of course there will be people who act as if they are licensed when they are not, but this isn’t any different than any other profession, including attorneys. (That’s why we have unlicensed practice of law regulations).   However, those that apply for and receive a journalism license, know with certainty that they have the shield laws.  This would reinvigorate the prestige of journalism while increasing the trust of confidential sources.  Companies like Gizmodo, which is part the Gawker family of sites, would certainly have the funds to certify and license their employees (they did pay $5000.00 for the iPhone).  The rest of us would continue in limbo, unsure of our rights as journalists and citizens of the web, but at least we wouldn’t have the expectation to be treated as journalist when it best suits are legal situations.

attorneys, journalists, rambles, standards

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