Sunday, April 17, 2005

Bill broaches blogger-journalist debate

Texas' first legislator-blogger Rep. Aaron Peña, thinks journalists need more protection.

Peña's proposed shield law legislation,
HB 188, will be heard Monday in the House Judiciary Committee. Shield laws protect reporters from having to reveal their sources except under well-defined circumstances. I was glad to see
Peña wrote the bill up on his own blog here. I think it's a great idea for legislators to use blogs to promote legislation and explain what they're doing to the public. I wish him luck, and really hope it passes.

As he points out in his blog post, Rep Peña's bill raises the issue of whether bloggers are journalists who qualify for protection. His blog's interpretation leaves the question open, but here's what appears to be the money quote on the subject in the bill language:

"Journalist" means a person, or an employee, independent contractor, or agent of that person, engaged in the business of gathering, compiling, writing, editing, photographing, recording, or processing information for dissemination by any news medium.
The way I read that, if this bill passes, then bloggers who accept advertising or who are otherwise blogging as a "business" would be covered, while those like Grits blogging without remuneration would not receive such protection.

That's not an unreasonable place to draw the line. A lot of blogs accept advertising, so many would qualify. Indeed, one wonders if small revenue streams such as one might receive from Google Adwords would qualify a blog as a business? For that matter, I wonder if the bill language would cover someone who was writing for pay, but who worked for a nonprofit, not a "business"? The Texas Observer, for example, is a non-profit corporation, but not a for-profit "business."

These are all sticky questions to which there are no easy answers. Make me philosopher king and I'd agree with Michigan law professor and conservative blogger
Hugh Hewitt's definition in the current issue of Campaigns and Elections magazine that just arrived in the mail: "any blogger writing with the intent of providing news or opinion to a third party - the identity of whom they do not know - is a journalist in my view." That picks up everybody from Josh Marshall to Grits to Slashdot to Rep. Peña's own blog.

The prosecutors are out to kill
Peña's bill, though, so don't look for the language to get more expansive. The news media backing it are feared, but unpopular. He'll face a tough row to hoe if he's going to pass it, but it's a worthy ambition.

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