So, let’s end the debate here, shall we? Are you really a journalist–and therefore entitled to that media pass and whatever protection media workers are entitled to–or just a blogger? Here’s what some websites say about a blogger who was recently slapped $2.5 million in fines for defaming an investment firm in her blog. She invoked U.S. “media shield laws”, but the judge declared that she was a blogger, and “not a journalist.”
A blogger is not a journalist. Crystal Cox is a blogger, and $2.5 million says she is not a journalist. In a case that settled some debates about whether a blogger is a journalist and opened new ones about media shield laws, a U.S. District court judge in Oregon ruled that Cox had to pay $2.5 million to an investment firm she defamed on a blog she runs. Cox argued that media shield laws protect her against defamation suits. The judge disagreed. Cox told a Seattle paper, “This should matter to everyone who writes on the Internet.” Maybe, but I’m guessing most Facebook updates aren’t intended to be journalism.
As reported by Seattle Weekly, Judge Marco A. Hernandez said Crystal Cox, who runs several blogs, wasn’t entitled to the protections afforded to journalists — specifically, Oregon’s media shield law for sources — because she wasn’t “affiliated with any newspaper, magazine, periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system.”
The Obsidian Finance Group sued Cox in January for $10 million for writing several blog posts critical of the company and its co-founder, Kevin Padrick. Obsidian argued that the writing was defamatory. Cox represented herself in court.
The judge threw out all but one of the blog posts cited, focusing on just one (this one), which was more factual in tone than the rest of her writing. Cox said that was because she was being fed information from an inside source, whom she refused to name.
Without the source, she couldn’t prove the information in the post was true — and thus, according to the judge, she didn’t qualify for Oregon’s media shield law since she wasn’t employed by a media establishment. In the court’s eyes, she was a blogger, not a journalist. The penalty: $2.5 million.
The way we frame this discussion is important. When anyone can publish, I’m often asked, who’s a journalist, anyway? That’s the wrong question, I believe. The vastly more relevant issue is this: what is journalism?
That – and not the matter of whom we call a journalist – is what legislators and courts should be examining. Because, while most people will never be (or call themselves) journalists, any of us can commit acts of journalism. The Oregon blogger’s kind of journalism certainly isn’t my style, but her goal is plainly to inform the public about an issue she believes to be of public interest. Is that journalism? I’d argue it is, even though I certainly don’t argue that she or any other journalist is entitled to libel anyone else. (In a related take on this topic, GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram says we are all becoming journalists – and that laws need to reflect that. We agree on the basics if not the terminology.)
The Philippines hasn’t had a similar case yet, although it definitely should. For a country that declares itself democratic and with a free press, Freedom of Information is still sorely lacking, as are laws that define the boundaries of digital media and citizen journalism, and protect those who practice it.
As for the blogger vs journalist debate, my short answer there is this: Not everyone who has the tools, knows how (or deserves) to use them. I’ll save my long answer for another post. 🙂