The Daring Digital Decision: Bloggers Are NOT Journalists

Picture of Crystal Cox © Crystal Cox

Picture of Crystal Cox © Crystal Cox

THE DECISION

In a daring digital decision handed down by the Supreme Court of Oregon, a blogger is not automatically a journalist. Crystal Cox, self proclaimed investigative journalist wrote a blog, Obsidian Financial Sucks, defaming the Oregon company. Her article resulted in a $2.5 million suit being brought against her by the company. She lost in spite of her proclamation:

“Yes I am a Self-Proclaimed Investigative Blogger and under Supreme Court Decisions, under the law as making a living as an Investigative Blogger, Gathering News, Taking Interviews, and Reporting on these Stories I am Media [sic]. I am an Independent News Media. I am a Public Forum, my blogs do go out in news feeds and I am Legally Media [sic]“.

“But the judge disagreed. Judge Marco Hernandez wrote that due to Cox’s lack of education in journalism, any credentials or proof of affiliation with any recognized news entity, plus her failure to contact the other side to get both sides of the story, Cox is not a member of the media, so journalistic shield laws do not apply to the alleged defamation statements Cox wrote on her blog. She has been ordered to pay Obsidian $2.5 million in damages.”

THE ISSUE

This brings up a critical digital journalistic issue by posing the question, “What makes a blogger a journalist?”

According to the court, a blogger who considers him or herself an investigative journalist, expecting to be protected legally by traditional journalistic codes or ‘shield laws’, must be held to the same standards as a traditional media journalist.

The blogger is planning to appeal the decision because she believes that bloggers need to be recognized as journalists and protected as such. In her own defense, she said, “A blogger is a journalist, or a reporting [sic] in my opinion, when they take interviews, get tips emailed, get and research documents, study cases and depositions, talk to those personally involved, and post their story just as a traditional reporter.”

There are several crucial pieces missing from Cox’s self-defense quoted above and cited in the judges ruling. They are education, credentials and ethics. According to Judge Marco Hernandez, she possesses none of these. She has no journalistic education. She has no credentials as a journalist as she has no affliction with any journalistic organization. And lastly, because she did not get both sides of the story, her writing lacks ethics.

MY OPINION AND CONCLUSION

As an author for the Digital Brand Marketing Education Blog, I personally consider this a landmark case that needs to stay on the books to set precedent. ‘New media’ offers endless opportunities for self-expression of ideas with the addition that these ideas can catch on like wildfire and go ‘viral’ as we say in the ‘new media’ speak.

This is what makes this case all the more important. Anyone can say anything. Anyone can write anything. But it is crucial that in order to be protected under ‘journalistic shield law’ that the same rules apply in ‘new media’ that are expected to be upheld in traditional media journalism.

I am certain that this ruling will be tested repeatedly. Other states will most likely have to follow suit. It is to the benefit of news bloggers, who abide by the rules, that this ruling was made. Without the traditional guidelines, education, credentials, and ethics being upheld on the Internet, a blogger’s misinformation can become like a dangerous wildfire gone completely out of control.

The Internet provides ample opportunity  for creative writers to publish fiction. A writer can only be considered a journalist by following the technical rules described in this post and based on the decision made by the Supreme Court of Oregon. Otherwise the writing can be a figment of the author’s imagination rather than his or her search for the truth.


SOURCES AND ADDITIONAL READING ON THIS TOPIC:

Crystal Cox ordered to pay $2.5 million for defamation; bloggers not journalists

The Meaning of [sic]

Blogger Crystal Cox is No Journalist, Must Pay $2.5M in Damages, Says Judge

Obsidian Finance Sucks

Crystal Cox Website

KevinPadrick.com Blog

OBSIDIAN V. COX. PORTLAND OREGON FINANCIAL COMPANY V. INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST, BLOGGER

Bloggers versus Journalists

Obsidian Finance Group Website

Judge Marco Hernandez

The Twisted Psychology of Bloggers vs. Journalists: My Talk at South By Southwest

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Comments

  1. Great article, Alison. My only question, then, is whether this opens up any blogger, regardless of where they are located? Since our words end up in every state, are we subject to those laws, similar to the way they are trying to tax on-line resellers like Amazon?

    I believe that this ruling will be overturned, since there may be a question of opinion, and whether it’s covered by the First Amendment.

    A very slippery slope, indeed.

    Craig

  2. Like any case, when its the first of its kind the decision sets precident and tends to influence other cases. Perhaps a better argument would have been as a blog the consumer should be aware it is opinion and did not hold the same wait, therefore the perception that it was recieved as fact was not possible….

    This is why our articles on dbmei cite sources, this way its a combination of facts, opinions and perception.

    Based on this rulling, dbmei authors would be protected under the the standards that we have standards, are organized, provide fact checking, etc.

    • Dear Craig and Basil,
      I just love when my writing is challenged or commented on in a way that it opens up a whole new avenue of thought and discussion. Two things have come to my mind since completing this post.
      I did quite a bit of research including watching a video made by Crystal Cox. She admits that there is no way that she could ever pay the $2.5 million dollar settlement but that all the publicity she is getting is great.
      It appears to me that there are several issues at hand as you have both suggested ever others. A traditional/official journalist is protected by the ‘journalistic shield law’ from having to reveal confidential sources. It appears that it does not exempt one also from possible lawsuits. But in the case of a credentialed journalist there is most likely an organization with in-house attorneys to remedy the issue.
      Crystal Cox is part of no organization. She seems to pride herself as a ‘self-proclaimed blogger journalist’ in the tradition of the muckraker style. She almost seems to be enjoying the whole ordeal except for the death threats.
      It is hard to decide what is most germain to DBME, our writers and readers about this post. Is it the saga of Crystal Cox and whether or not she has a case and is a victim of a David and Goliath scheme? Is it the veracity of the decision made by the Oregon Supreme Court versus the First Amendment and whether or not the ruling will hold up across state lines? Or is it clearly defining the difference between fact, fiction and opinion when writing an article that is published by either traditional or new media?
      All of the above are points that merit their own blog posts in answer to these questions. For now, I thank my fellow writers, Craig and Basil for posing these questions.

  3. sweetopiagirl says:

    Reblogged this on Inspiredweightloss.

  4. I really believe that bloggers are not journalists but I observe that bloggers are more fierce and concern to the readers. They aren’t hiding some parts which makes them more nicer than journalists.

    • Dear Jeremy,
      Thank you for your comment. I appreciate your taking the time to respond. In what way do you “observe that bloggers are more fierce and concern to the readers”? Actually, it is the journalists that are credited with not ‘hiding’ some parts and one of the reasons that Crystal Cox was sued was because she supposedly did ‘hide’ or misrepresent parts of the story. What do you think? She was very fierce in her writing. In fact, she has written a length about the issue and even made a video statement. If you get to read some of the ‘Sources’ and ‘Other Reading Materials’ at the end of my blog post, you can see how fierce and persistent she was as a ‘self-proclaimed investigative blogger’.
      Sincerely,
      Alison Gilbert, Digital Age Storyteller
      Alison Gilbert

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