The Case of Crystal Cox: the Issue of Bloggers as Journalists, Continued

INTRODUCTION
This post started as a comment to a comment on another blog that sited my post on the DBME Blog, dated December 10, 2011, in its ‘Related Articles’. As I wrote my comment, I began to feel that it contributed enough new insight into this issue that I started to consider publishing it as another blog post on this issue. I have made some minor changes to my ‘responding comment’ for this post since I’ve done additional research since commenting.

Most importantly, I would like to thank the commenter (on the article on eff.org) who used my post as part of his/her ‘Related Articles‘, (Posted on December 14, 2011 by zandocomm). This commenter’s feedback and insights inspired me to research this issue further and  put my thoughts to post on this issue once again.

legal Guide for Blogger © eff.org

Legal Guide for Blogger © eff.org

MY COMMENT AND A BIT MORE
I appreciate the expansion upon the blog post I wrote initially, The Daring Digital Decision: Bloggers Are NOT Journalists, that is listed in the ‘Related Articles‘ from a comment on the blog post, The Crystal Cox Case and Bloggers as Journalists. It clarifies what I feel are some of the more germain issues to this case. There are some very valid points made by the commenter and everyone else in my follow up research.

In particular, what I find most important are the fact that, (from the commenter) “Two important things appear to be going on in this case. First, courts occasionally identify a reluctance to extend journalistic protections to non-traditional “media” sources such as bloggers because of a perceived lack of a limiting principle. How can everyone potentially be a journalist? courts seemingly ask. This sentiment is frequently echoed by mainstream journalists who, rightly or wrongly, balk at the perceived threat of dilution of legal protections for traditional journalists posed when (as here) self-proclaimed journalists might go too far and risk protections for established media. As EFF and many others have pointed out, the proper approach to this question is to focus on what amounts to journalism, not who is a journalist. Journalism is not limited to a particular medium; instead, it focuses on whether someone is engaged in gathering information and disseminating it to the public. To the extent that laws are unclear or out of date – such as Oregon’s retraction statute which does not clearly include (or exclude) Internet journalism – legislatures should be encouraged to expansively update them to ensure the protection of individuals seeking to communicate information to the public.

“Second, and lost in much of the discussion about this case over the past week, Cox’s case seems to have much to do with an underlying discomfort and concern about how information is distributed online, whether or not it is actionable. David Carr’s recent article in the New York Times illustrates the phenomenon well. In it, Carr quotes plaintiff Kevin Padrick as lamenting the effect of Cox’s “long-running series of hyperbolic posts” and telling Carr that “his business as a financial adviser had dropped by half since Ms. Cox started in on him, and any search of his name or his company turned up page after page on Google detailing his supposed skullduggery, showing up under a variety of sites.”

THE BIGGER ISSUE
Both points lead to what I feel is the bigger issue. Traditional media journalism does not, per se, have the viral affect that blogged information can. Therefore, veracity of information or the lack of it can be magnified exponentially. As a result, the information posted can spread like wild fire and have a previously unseen impact on the parties involved. As we have already seen, social media has outdated the need for traditional war as the medium for a national revolution. The implications of what blogging can do, as a part of ‘journalistic’ media, reach beyond our imagination.

I totally agree that there seems to be something askew in this case. The issue of shield law has to do with protection of confidentiality of sources. The judges ruling skirts the real issue. This is about the Internet and whether or not to deal with it as part of the present  definition of journalism (which is confined to traditional media) rather than focusing on the journalist, Crystal Cox in particular as the Supreme Court case decision did.

The commenter continues, ” . . . the proper approach to this question is to focus on what amounts to journalism, not who is a journalist. Journalism is not limited to a particular medium; instead, it focuses on whether someone is engaged in gathering information and disseminating it to the public. To the extent that laws are unclear or out of date – such as Oregon’s retraction statute which does not clearly include (or exclude) Internet journalism – legislatures should be encouraged to expansively update them to ensure the protection of individuals seeking to communicate information to the public.”

CONCLUSION
We have not heard the end of this issue. In fact, we have only seen the beginning. Blogging as a form of ‘journalism’ is NOT going away. More and more individuals will increasingly use this form of new media to voice their opinion and report what they consider newsworhty. In my opinion, the standards required for traditional journalists need more than ever to be upheld, (education, credentials, and ethics). But it will become increasingly difficult to monitor and distinguish truth from fiction when so many individuals blog and posted information can go viral before a retraction of error or slander can possibly undo the damage.

SOURCES AND OTHER INFORMATION:

The Crystal Cox Case and Bloggers as Journalists

Crystal Cox and Bloggers as Journalists

Kevin Padrick

Related Articles

When Truth Survives Free Speech

Legal Guide for Bloggers

Are All Bloggers Journalists?

The Problem with Pre-Internet Laws

Should We Rethink Shield Law?

According to the Law

A Broader Definition of ‘Journalism’

The facebook page, Room for Debate

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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