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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

Enjoy my shield, please

Listen up, fellow bloggers -- you, too, are journalists:

In a decision that could impact bloggers across New Jersey, a Superior Court judge ruled today that a self-declared citizen watchdog who writes stinging critiques of Union County government has the same legal protections as a professional journalist.

While questioning the quality and tone of the writing in Tina Renna’s blog posts, Judge Karen Cassidy concluded Renna "obtained material in the course of professional newsgathering activities" with the aim of disseminating it over the internet.

As such, Cassidy wrote in her opinion, Renna should be covered by the state’s shield law. Under that law, one of the most powerful of its kind in the country, journalistss generally cannot be forced to reveal their sources or other sensitive information to law enforcement or grand juries.

But, then, so is everybody else as well. The First Amendment was not drafted as a protection for professional news organizations. It was meant to declare the right possessed by all Americans to collect and disseminate information. I've never understood how news organizations could, on the one hand, declare themselves independent agencies free of all government control (the better to be a watchdog, my dears), buton the other hand seek the special protection of a shield law not available to the run-of-the-mill citizen. With respect to the protection offered by the First Amendment, we are all journalists and always have been. That fact is just coming into a little clearer focus now that there are thousands and thousands of bloggers doing the job that has historically been claimed by the "mainstream" meadia.

New fronts are going to be opening in the information revolution daf after day -- this thing is going to evolve faster than anybody has imagined. It's going to be a struggle to make sure the law keeps up with technology.