12:24 PM

Are bloggers journalists? San Francisco Says Yes

San Francisco will tomorrow become the first jurisdiction in the country to declare that bloggers should be treated no differently than traditional media. That's what the San Francisco City Attorney will state at a meeting of the city's Board of Supervisors. The Board is considering an amendment to the city ordinance that would require full disclosure of who is paying for political messages.

The proposed language exempts "news stories, commentaries or editorials distributed through any newspaper, radio station, television station or other recognized news medium" unless the medium is "owned or controlled" by a candidate, political party or committee.

So are blogs a "recognized news medium?" Yes, the City Attorney will say at the Supervisors' meeting tomorrow. What's not clear is whether independent individuals who are paid to do partisan blogging would fall under the press exemption. For instance, would a campaign consultant be able to blog without disclosure? What if he or she were not being paid directly by a campaign, party or committe? What if someone were being paid for technical consulting and was "volunteering" to publish dirt on the opposition? I couldn't reach the City Attorney's office for comment.

The question of whether blogs are media erupted recently in the case of Apple v Does, in which Cupertino-based Apple is trying to compel online news sites to reveal their sources for reporting that revealed technical data about unreleased products. In a preliminary ruling, the judge in the case cast doubt on whether the blogs in question had standing as legitimate news sources.

While the final ruling in that case applied to all media, it's still unclear what standing bloggers have. San Francisco's statement could impact media-related court cases adjudicated in the city.

This story first came to our attention (via the Blog Herald) from a post on Personal Democracy Forum by Michael Bassik, vice president for Internet advertising at Malchow Schlackman Hoppey & Cooper, the self-described "leading political direct mail and online advertising firm in America.

In his post Bassik claimed that the proposed amendment would require "local bloggers to register with the city Ethics Commission and report all blog-related costs that exceed $1,000 in the aggregate."

"Blogs that mention candidates for local office that receive more than 500 hits will be forced to pay a registration fee and will be subject to website traffic audits," he wrote, citing Chad Jacobs, a lawyer in the City Attorney's office.

That's simply wrong, said Greg Asay, legislative assistant to Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, who sponosred the amendment. He suggested this is a "red herring" being spread by anti-disclosure sources.

Bassik, whom I reached by cell phone in New York, said that the city attorney's announcement represents a "huge victory. Before this, it was not clear whether they were going to include blogs in the press exemption."

Bassik emphasized that while the San Francisco announcement is a first, the public should pay close attention to rules proposed by the FEC on March 24 on when blogs should be considered press, volunteers, or paid consultants. There 60-day comment period on the proposed rules, dating from March 24.