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New Jersey Blogger Not Protected by Shield Law

Bloggers may be gaining respect as citizen reporters or commentators, but they still don't have all of the legal protections that apply to journalists. As The New Jersey Law Journal (via reports, Monmouth County, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Louis Locascio ruled that blogger Shellee Hale is not covered by New Jersey's reporter shield laws and must disclose the source of comments posted on, a site dedicated to "the business of porn."

According to the article, Hale's comments at Oprano criticized a software product known as NATS, which helps businesses that link to each other keep track of click-generated commissions. Apparently, NATS is used in the adult porn industry as well. Hale commented that Too Much Media, the company that developed the NATS product, had engaged in fraud and "illegal and unethical use of technology," violated New Jersey's Identity Theft Protection Act and profited from stolen e-mail addresses. Too Much Media sued Hale and asked about her sources at a deposition, and she moved for a protective order based on the shield law. However, the judge found no evidence that Hale had worked for the media before or that she was "engaged on, engaged in, connected with, or employed by news media for the purpose of gathering, procuring, transmitting, compiling, editing or disseminating news for the general public."

Reading the summary of the case, I didn't think that the ruling was all that bad -- at least insofar as the facts of the case were concerned. To me, it seemed as if Hale filed irresponsible comments and invoked the shield law to defend against a defamation claim. It did not seem from the description that she was operating as a journalist under any sense of the word.

But the problem is that the case may have broader implications, as Jane Genova points out at Law and More. Confining the definition of a journalist to those who work for traditional news media outlets would exclude citizen journalists or the new breed of bona fide investigative bloggers:

The issue of possible great concern here is how this particular judge defines the concept of "journalist." Hasn't citizen journalism, as political consultant Dick Morris predicted in his 1999 book "," expanded or, more accurately, reconfigured that concept? Theoretically, in practice, and perhaps according to the law, digital technology has made Everyman and Everywoman a "journalist."

Do shield laws need to expand the definition of journalists -- particularly as traditional journalism is being replaced by new variations? We posted back in May about a bill in New York that would expand the shield law to cover bloggers. Is this the way all states should go? What do you think?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on July 8, 2009 at 03:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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