Saturday, April 25, 2009

When is a blogger a newsperson?

Will the New Jersey shield law protect a blogger doing research for an article?

Wait a month to find out.

My cousin gets involved in the most fascinating cases. And this one about a blogger being sued for slander over online conversations to research an article really piques my interest.

I've observed that my own blogging takes me in different directions, sometimes engaging in conversation about an article someone else has written, and sometimes producing original content to which someone else might respond.

When I started attending borough council meetings I wanted to learn about the issues that were important to the people in the community. My blog was a convenient tool for me to record my perceptions and to share them with others.

I noticed that sometimes our local newspaper had a reporter there to cover the story, and sometimes not. It is easy for a local government to stay off the radar screen. It can hold meetings at the same time as the well-attended school board meetings. It can cancel agenda meetings and make the public wait for the actual meeting to find out what business is to be transacted. It can make clever use of executive session, misstating the purpose for excluding the public, or reconvening in open session after most of the public have gone home.

Some friends and acquaintances appreciated what I wrote. And some politicans made ingratiating comments to me about how my blog posts were so much better than what the newspaper had published. Come on - I had read the newspaper stories and I knew that they were just fine.

Was I a journalist in what I wrote on my blog? I don't know. Was I journalist when I started writing original local stories on Perhaps. But in both cases I am sure that I made a contribution to keeping the public informed.

I never faced a lawsuit over sources - or for anything else related to my blogging. But I am really looking forward to learning the outcome of Shellee Hale's case.

And I hope she wins.

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