Bill Densmore has posted a crowdsourced Q&A with Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate. (Disclosure: As you’ll see if you read it all the way through, I helped with one of the questions.)
I have not read the entire interview, but I did read her answer to a question about whether she would support a federal shield law to protect journalists who are ordered to reveal their confidential sources.
Coakley’s answer is troublesome, as she replies that she supports protection for “bona fide journalists.” I take that to mean card-carrying members of the mainstream media.
I am dubious of shield laws, and believe an absolute law would likely be ruled unconstitutional. At most, shield laws should require a judge to rule on whether a journalist’s testimony is necessary and if there might be some alternative way of getting the same information, as outlined by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in the 1972 Branzburg v. Hayes decision. (Alas, Stewart was on the losing side, and his proposed balancing test has led a tortured existence.)
But whatever is protected, it ought to be journalism, not journalists. If an amateur blogger is engaging in journalism, then she should have just as much protection as a press-pass-wielding reporter. The test shouldn’t be who you are — it should be what you do.