Blogger as Journalist: the Trivialization of Journalism?

10 Jun ’06

The recent California Apple case extending the protection of that state’s shield law to bloggers was hailed by the blogosphere, and in many respects I’m sure that the evaporation of that distinction between professional and amateur is a good thing. But as I listened this morning to a podcast mourning the recent dissipation of protections traditionally afforded journalists (protection of anonymous sources, etc.), it occurred to me that there is a boomerang buried in the Apple case.

The concern is that Watergate now seems a high-water mark for investigative journalism, and that a confluence of social trends in the intervening years has led to the progressive castration of the Fourth Estate – we now seem to be in a time of shadow, where the disinfecting light of investigative journalism seldom shines. I recently wrote “And it’s worth noting that in this age of media agglomeration, increasing financial pressures on news-gathering organizations, news-tainment and an apparently declining interest of the Fourth Estate in vigorously fulfilling this responsibility, an active citizenry may ultimately prove to be more important than we now suppose.”

Now I wonder. With a judiciary growing increasingly hostile to the notion of special treatment for the Fourth Estate and the anonymous source, and more recently with the growth of blogging seemingly commoditizing the role of journalist, what will happen to the important social and constitutional role filled by a vigorous press? Is such a thing even possible any more? If everyone is a journalist, the special protections afforded to them will surely continue to disappear. And even: perhaps we are nearing the end of the age of facts – and entering an age of government and corporate secrecy where we will all chatter endlessly, but ultimately only about what can be superficially observed. A nice time to be a celebrity perhaps, but a citizen, not so much.

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