‘Investigative Blogger’ Crystal Cox was ordered to pay $2.5 million this week for defaming the owner of Oregon investment firm Obsidian Financial. Cox runs various law related blogs like industrywhistleblower.com, judicialhellhole.com, and obsidianfinancesucks.com.
The distinction between “journalist” and “blogger” made a very large difference in the case. Because U.S. District Court Judge Marco A. Hernandez found that Cox was not a journalist she was not entitled to the protections of the Oregon media shield statute. The Oregon media law reads:
No person connected with, employed by or engaged in any medium of communication to the public shall be required by … a judicial officer … to disclose, by subpoena or otherwise … [t]he source of any published or unpublished information obtained by the person in the course of gathering, receiving or processing information for any medium of communication to the public[.]
Judge Hernandez’s finding that Cox was not a journalist mainly hinged on the fact that Cox was not employed by an official media establishment and failed to produce evidence of her status as a journalist. The judge found that there was no evidence of:
- Any education in journalism;
- Any credentials or proof of any affiliation with any recognized news entity;
- Proof of adherence to journalistic standards such as editing, fact-checking, or disclosures of conflicts of interest;
- Keeping notes of conversations and interviews conducted;
- Mutual understanding or agreement of confidentiality between the defendant and his/her sources;
- Creation of an independent product rather than assembling writings and postings of others; or
- Contacting “the other side” to get both sides of a story.
However, bloggers don’t be alarmed. There are two main points that seem to limit the application of this case.
First, this case was decided on the Oregon media shield statute. This may not be the law in your state. For example, some commentators feel that the outcome would not have been the same in Washington State. Also, blogs are not defined in Oregon’s laws as “media.” This may not be the case in your state.
Second, it appears as though Cox does not have the cleanest of hands. According to Forbes staff writer Kashmir Hill many of Cox’s blog posts were ‘unhinged.’ Further, according to the Forbes article Cox allegedly contacted Obsidian Financial earlier in 2011 and offered to provide them with “reputation services” for $2500 a month.
I will leave it to Ms. Kasmir Hill of Forbes for the lesson in all of this:
Yes, there are bloggers who are journalists. But just because you have a blog doesn’t mean that what you do is journalism.
Click here to read the PDF of the case.
 See: Unlike Oregon, Bloggers Are Journalists in Washington State, Do Qualify for Legal Protections
 Why An Investment Firm Was Awarded $2.5 Million After Being Defamed By Blogger