New Jersey blogger considered a journalist under state Shield Law
A New Jersey blogger qualifies for protection under the state’s shield law and does not have to reveal the names of government officials she accused of wrongdoing, a judge ruled.
Union County Superior Court Judge Karen Cassidy quashed county prosecutors’ subpoena served on blogger Tina Renna, who runs the website The County Watchers. Prosecutors sought the names of 16 local government officials Renna accused of misusing county generators after Hurricane Sandy in a December blog post. Cassidy ruled that Renna passed a three-part test that determines whether someone qualifies as a journalist and should receive protection under the shield law.
In the opinion, Cassidy considered the three factors: whether Renna had a connection to news media, whether her purpose was to gather or disseminate news, and whether she obtained her information through “professional newsgathering activities.”
“These original posts are arguably newsworthy and constitute ‘news’ under the Statute,” Cassidy wrote in her opinion released Friday. “In addition, her method of talking to sources, attending freeholder meetings, and using Open Public Records Act requests … is sufficiently similar to the methods used by traditional news media entities.”
The actual opinion is here. I got a kick out of the fact that the blogger’s lawyer, a former journalist who has done a lot of media law, was the guy who first taught me how to defend a deposition when we were associates together (he much senior to me) at the same big New Jersey law firm. (The same law firm I just defeated in a motion last month, in fact!) We’ve both moved on since then, of course, and I was pleased to see the outcome — consistent with a position I’ve advocated for years. Bloggers, obviously, are journalists, when they’re doing journalism, just as journalists, obviously, are something else when they merely act as propagandists or mouthpieces. Journalism, as we said in the old Media Bloggers Association, is something you do, not something you are.
That was the question concerning whether one is a journalist or non-journalist, asked without reference to what one might be other than a journalist in that instance, which, the New Jersey court ruled, is not the inquiry — despite the insistence of another party, in that case a prosecutor, that the blogger is just “playing journalism” to avoid getting in trouble with the law:
Union County prosecutor Theodore Romankow . . . has publicly questioned whether [blogger Tina] Renna made up the accusations and invoked the shield law so that she would not be caught.
“Personally, I believe she was caught in a lie and chose to waste time and money by hiding,” the prosecutor told the news website NJ.com on Friday.
In court, Romankow said Renna cannot be considered a journalist because many of her posts are unprofessional and related to her personal involvement in local politics.
The New Jersey court wasn’t buying. Guess what: Journalism isn’t a “profession,” it is, yes, an activity. And weighing personal involvement in a topic of journalistic interest, besides being actually pretty common among journalists, cannot possibly be a good policy.
Attacking bloggers for what they write, however, can take more vicious form than service of a subpoena for information, not that that can’t be quite destructive. And, sometimes, that prosecutor shoe can be on the other foot.