When is a blogger a journalist?

Submitted by Lee Batdorff on Mon, 03/05/2007 - 13:12.

From  Bill Cohen-Kiraly on Cleveland Web SIG Yahoo Group - I don't know anything about the case in question but find the question this columnist raises about who is a journalist and who is not intriging and worrisome. In an age when publishing, and through podcasts now, broadcasting, are increasingly in the hands of the people and the amateurs, who should be covered under some of the special privileges we give to journalists?

If someone is both an activist and a blogger, can he or she protect themselves from the
consequences of illegal actions, or knowledge of someone else's
illegal actions, because he or she is a "journalist"? Do we want the
government and courts defining who is a journalist and who is not? I
guess if we have special priveldges for journalists, then we have to
draw a line somewhere but I am not sure where that line is.

I would have to say that, if Saunders facts are right as stated
below, and someone has a video tape of a public riot in which a cop
was attacked, they would in my mind, have both a legal and ethical
responsibility to turn that tape over so the thugs who comitted that
act can be jailed. Certainly any responsible newspaper or tv
photographer would.

(Disclosure: I was a newspaper journalist for about 10 years before
getting into dtp and web development so these questions hit close to

Bill Cohen-Kiraly posted his comment above and the copy below at Cleveland WebSIG Yahoo Group found here.

Josh Wolf - Blogger - Hase No Press Pass

By Debra J. Saunders | http://www.JewishWorldReview.com |

Josh Wolf, the blogger who has
spent some six months in prison for refusing to hand over a video he
took of a violent July 8, 2005, protest in the Mission District of
San Francisco to a federal grand jury, is not a journalist.
    He is a blogger with an agenda and a camera, who sold a "selected
portion" of the video of the demonstration, which left a San
Francisco police officer with a fractured skull, to KRON-TV. The day
after the melee, Wolf called himself on his videoblog an "artist, an
activist, an anarchist and an archivist." He does not work for a news
organization. He does not answer to editors who fact-check. I do not
understand why newspapers — including The San Francisco Chronicle —
refer to him as the "longest-imprisoned journalist" in America.

    San Francisco Assemblyman Mark Leno, who has spoken at Wolf
fundraisers, told me, "I think he, and those who are doing similar
kind of work, is in the process of redefining what a journalist is
relative to 21st century technology." In this brave new world, no
definition is sacred any more. But a camera and a Website do not a
journalist make, any more than shooting a criminal makes a vigilante
a cop.

    Wolf likes to put himself in the company of real journalists, such as
The Chronicle's Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, who risked
going to jail in order to protect their confidential source in the
BALCO story. But unlike Fainaru-Wada and Williams, Wolf had no
confidential source agreement. He was filming public protests — those
protesters had no expectation of privacy.

    Because he can't hide behind a confidential source agreement, Wolf
has had to get creative. So, in a friend-of-the-court brief, the ACLU
warned that if Wolf is viewed by anarchists and antiwar groups "as
cooperating with the government, he will no longer be able to perform
his vital role of covering these groups."

    Wolf's actions, however, make a mockery of the ACLU argument. Wolf
offered to show the outtakes of his video to a federal judge, just to
prove that the video does not depict the police attacks in question.
The judge refused.

    I do not support the feds' action of putting Wolf in prison for some
six months while they seem to be fishing for evidence. As Leno
noted, "I think it's important for people to realize that this man
has been held in federal prison, he has never been charged with a
crime and never been convicted of a crime, and they are treating him
like a very dangerous criminal."

    Readers, therefore, should ask whether jailing Wolf for months is
worth the cost to the taxpayers. He attacked no one. It is not even
clear that his video implicates anyone — or that investigators could
not use some other footage to find out who attacked two city cops and
damaged their patrol car. Then there's the question as to whether the
U.S. attorney even has jurisdiction here, even if the SFPD does
receive federal funds.

    Peter Shields, the San Francisco cop who was out of work for a year
after his skull was fractured in the incident, has little problem
with Wolf's incarceration. Shields also is none too happy that the
San Francisco supervisors "immediately" mobilized to show support for
Wolf's cause. "Why couldn't they do that to find who hit me?" Shields
asked over coffee Monday morning.

    Shields took Spanish classes so that he could better serve the
diverse Mission District where he is stationed. He was furious to see
the activists, who say they support the poor, trashing a vibrant,
diverse working-class neighborhood during the protest. When he
arrived on the scene, he said, "they were destroying property. They
were endangering lives."

    What if he were attacked not because he is a cop, but because he is a
gay man? Shields, who is gay, said people here would be "furious." He
added, "If this chaos happened in the Castro, there would not be this
hoopla, if you will, around the Josh Wolf videotape." But there is no
public outrage, he added, "just because I put on a uniform."

    Alas, in the Special City, attacking a gay man is a hate crime, while
attacking a gay cop can be a cause celebre.


Wolf is locked up for contempt of court – that’s not spelled out, but it seems clear.  The discovery process in both civil and criminal trials is a critical part of the justice process.   And a grand jury in a criminal matter must have discovery subpoena power. Materials relevant to the criminal matter are discoverable (and must be produced) under most circumstances – with attorney client privilege, trade secret, and a few other exceptions.  Once Wolf created a physical record and let it be known that he had that record – he subjected the record to discovery.


Wolf has no claim that his video material is privileged due to confidentiality between himself and the persons he video’d.  Even if Wolf did have a confidentiality agreement, it would appear that he waived that confidentiality by producing selected portions of the video without distinguishing why the portions he released were not confidential, while the portions he refuses to release are confidential.  If our justice system allowed this type of selective discovery, parties to suits would be crippled by only being able to get from the opposing party only what the opposing party wanted to reveal – nothing more. That wouldn’t be equitable. 


The Libby – Judith Miller situation is distinguishable from Wolf.   Miller was a certifiable reporter, but she was also suspected to be PART of the “leak” crime.   In other words,  as a reporter she was suspected of helping to “leak” Plame’s CIA identity in collusion with the government (Bush’s cronies) and actually USING her claim to confidentiality to protect Libby.  If Miller was colluding – and there was reasonable suspicion that she was, then Miller’s press confidentiality privilege had to be lifted in order to determine her innocence or guilt.   Millers was a unique situation, usually the reporter is not suspected to be a party to the underlying criminal news item being reported about.   Miller was let go from her employer the Times just because of her lack of good judgment in getting too close to the source of the leak – and willfully misconstruing and concealing her  source (Libby) with a reference to a “a past capital hill staffer” as the source, when Miller knew that the source was not a past staffer, but a present presidential aid.  Miller deserved her jail time.


As to who should be issued so called Press credentials – I believe that there should be no such credentials.  In government news matters, the room size should govern how many wannabe reporters get in…and if there are more wannabes than room,  entry should be controlled by lottery this can be done ½ in advance and ½ at the time of the meeting.  (in high profile government matters, everybody needs to pass a security check first) Why should big corporate media have any more right to be present to report on government functions than joe six pack? In private “news” matters – like the Oscars, sports and other TV crap – the private venue owner gets to call the shots as to who the “press” is.  I have no problem with that.


In Massachusetts the State Police used to issue an official tag-around-the-neck “press pass” – which allowed getting past a yellow police line on the street, etc.  The “reporter” could get a better photo location than the general public.   But a blogger has filed a court challenge to the State’s police preference to issue passes to conventional media over individual bloggers.  So the State Police have postponed issuing any new press passes.   But think about it,  there are blogs like “Talking Points Memo” that get a million hits a day – that’s a lot more readers than the Plain Dealer has.  So why shouldn’t any blogger who is trying to increase circulation get an equal crack at entry?