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Hawaii Court to Decide if a Blogger is a Journalist



There’s an interesting case, going on in Hawaii, that could have far reaching ramifications for bloggers. A judge has ordered Malia Zimmerman of Hawaiireporter.com to submit to questioning which would force her to reveal her confidential sources.

…Zimmerman, an editor and reporter for the Web site, says she is a legitimate journalist, not just some hack who offers half-baked commentary on the news of the day.

“Any journalist who gives their word that they’ll protect somebody’s information or keep them in confidence, you have to abide by that,” Zimmerman said. “It’s not the medium you publish in, it’s what you do with that information.”

Hawaii is one 19 states that does not have a journalist shield law, designed to protect a reporter’s confidential sources. If Hawaii Circuit Court Judge Gary Chang refuses to accept Zimmerman’s claim that she is a legitimate journalist, the ruling could set a dangerous precedent for other bloggers.

There are two sides to the argument. The plaintiff’s lawyer is trying to convince the judge that accepting bloggers as journalists would create a big loophole.

“It seems to me that if a blogger is a journalist, everyone can produce a blog and never be subject to a subpoena,” McCorriston said. “Are all bloggers journalists? It’s a question that’s never been answered anywhere.”

Meanwhile, Zimmerman’s defense has evidence to prove that she is a legitimate journalist, who happens to use a blog publishing platform.

Hawaiireporter.com covers politics and business news, frequently from a conservative or libertarian perspective. It began publication in 2002, and Zimmerman said she does not consider it to be a blog, which generally is a Web site that posts a mix of fact and opinion…Zimmerman said her work for Disney-owned ABC was part of her legitimate journalistic role.

There are a lot more nuances to the case, so I suggest you read the whole summary.

I’d like to think that Marketing Pilgrim would be able to claim journalist privileges, based upon the fact that we are a legitimate news source, regardless of the fact that the site is organized like a blog. However, I agree that you can’t extend that same privilege to everyone, just because they have a blog. The courts needs to establish some kind of criteria for what makes a blogger a journalist.

What criteria do you think should make a blogger a journalist?

Hat-tip to my spouse and expert on all things Hawaii!

  • http://www.seorefugee.com/seoblog SEOrefugee

    That’s a really tough question. I think the lines between bloggers and journalist are quickly blurring beyond recognition. I mean think of all the reporters out there that have blogs now. ESPN, CNet, and on and on. If those bloggers are considered reporters (and I think they should be) it them becomes a matter of what site you blog for right? However, I think our legal system is far too slow to keep up with which sites should be considered legitimate enough to be considered journalistic. So… it’s a tough spot to be in. ;)

  • http://www.erikvossman.com Erik

    Aloha! Great to see Hawaii in the Blogging Spotlight, even if it is filled with controversy.

    As for the subject matter, it definitely is a tough question. When is a blog a blog and when is a blogger really just using a blogging software to more easily manage a database of information.

    I think they have to drop the fact that it is a blog and look the collection of previous works and how the writer presents him/herself. Any newspaper can be considered a blog, because a blog IMO, is just an easy way to categorize information and chronologically present that information. If they rule no for this lady, then would they have to look at the Honolulu Advertiser Online, the Star Bulletin Online, Mid-Week, etc, or are those newspapers truly employing journalists because they have a different medium than online to get their word out. Does that mean that “bloggers” have to circulate mini-newspapers, and if so, how many have to be in your circulation to be considered a journalist.

    The list could go on and on, but you get the point. Oh, and I’d say you guys here are more journalist than hobby newsies.

    Aloha,
    Erik

  • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Andy Beal

    @Erik – Mahalo for the Hawaiian input. :-)

  • http://www.simplenomics.com Mike

    can you tell us which are the other 18 states ?

  • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Andy Beal
  • http://riccardocampaci.wordpress.com/ Riccardo Campaci

    Well… but it does not matter whether the judge decide that Zimmerman is a journalist or not: she will have to reveal informations about her sources, because there is not a law shield for journalist in Hawaii…

  • http://www.seorefugee.com/seoblog SEOrefugee

    @ Riccardo, while it might not matter to the outcome of this specific case, setting the precedence one way or the other on whether this blogger qualifies as a journalist makes this an important case. At least, that’s the way I interpret it. I don’t have my law degree though and have been wrong before…

  • http://www.erikvossman.com Erik

    SEO- I would have to agree, any case that specifies blogger, blah blah blah, is or isn’t a journalist, would have some precedence in future cases (in my very limited opinion).

    I’ll be interesting to see if the final ruling makes mention of this person as a blogger and then what defines a blogger. (Is it anyone who reports in a chronological order.)

    E

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  • http://www.zylstra.org/blog Ton Zijlstra

    Not sure if this is a tough question at all.
    A blog is a tool more than a medium I’d say. The medium is still a website.
    Just because a journalist often uses a notepad and a pencil, that doesn’t mean that everybody who owns a notepad and a pencil can claim (s)he’s a journalist. Not everyone with a hammer is a carpenter either.
    A blog is a publishing tool.
    I’d say the behaviour and role of the journalist in question is the deciding factor, not the channel/tools/medium a journalist chooses for spreading their writings.

  • http://www.expressivelyme.blogspot.com Jen

    Aloha!!

    I blog basically to share ideas, and post my 2-cents, if there are any topics that I put out there. But I definitely wouldn’t consider myself a legitimate journalist. If a friend was to share a juicy secret story to GOSSIP about, and I blogged about it (of course I would change the names to keep those innocent), but does this mean I am now a legitimate journalist? OR…maybe my “friend” needs to be someone in the spotlight of the media in order for me to be considered that….hmmmmmmm

  • http://Blogi360.com Coach Deb

    Aloha Andy,

    TX 4 bringing this to the public eye.

    Allow me to share some insight, having known Malia and written for her “news (non) paper” online since she started it – many moons ago when I 1st moved here.

    Malia Zimmerman IS a journalist.
    Zimmerman is a real-live-legitimate journalist.

    This whole case is really much LESS about whether Malia Zimmerman is a “real” journalist – and MORE about a long-standing attack on Malia Zimmerman herself by the “powers that be” here in Hawaii.

    You see, Malia has always marched to a different drummer. She’s had her life threatened, an ex-Mayor try to defame her – on government letterhead and time, among a slew of other things this fearless woman has had to endure – simply because she offers a “different” opinion than the majority of the mainstream media, political officials and crusaders who live here in Hawaii.

    She just happened to turn adversity into an opportunity with the opening of her online journal – which is much more environmentally friendly than the newspapers still in existence that environmental activists don’t seem to have an issue about… aye – but that’s off-point.

    At any rate – she started her work AS a journalist, and happens to use online media as her channel to get the word out, share news, and share business information in a cost-effective, environmentally friendly fashion.

    Well – looks like I better take a trip to Small Business Hawaii for a sunrise breakfast to get more of THIS scoop!

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