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Are Bloggers Journalists? And How Much Does it Matter to Corporate PR?

Here’s a question for social media and corporate PR gurus to ponder. Are bloggers really journalists? The edges of the media have blurred into the blogosphere and now courts are starting to define who is a journalist and who is not. How this all works out makes a difference to marketers who are blogging and then feeding their content to social networks.

The ABA Journal reports that a decision by New Jersey appellate court will help shape that definition. The court ruled Thursday that a blogger was not protected by the state laws that shield journalists from revealing their sources. The blogger, a former Microsoft employee named Shellee Hale, claimed that Too Much Media, a company that supplies software to online pornography sites, had violated state laws protecting consumers against identity theft. Several media companies, including the New Jersey Press Association, NBC Universal Inc. and the New York Times Co., joined with Hales attorney in part of the lawsuit regarding libel, slander and damages.

Last weekend, Gawker employee Jason Chen, who dissected a prototype of the next iPhone purportedly found in a bar, became the poster boy of another tussle over the definition of blogger-journalist. First, Apple’s legal beagles politely asked Gawker for the return of their iPhone. Then Jason Chen’s house was searched by the police intent on finding the iPhone. Various devices were seized, most of which don’t even remotely resemble an iPhone. Now Gawker claims that the search warrant was not valid because Chen is a journalist whose sources are confidential.

So when does a blogger qualify as a journalist? When they reach 1000 page views? 100,000? a million? What about a corporate employee who contributes to the company blog?  Corporate marketers have embraced content marketing to drive traffic to their blogs. Are they journalists or marketers or a hybrid of both? I’m betting that Gawker will be in a better position to claim journalist status than a solo blogger or a corporate blogger, but stay tuned. Each of these legal cases will continue to define who is what.

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Carol McGarry

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