Blogger Crystal Cox has been ordered to pay $2.5 million in a defamation lawsuit filed by Obsidian Finance Group, reports the AP. Cox runs several investigative blogs, which primarily focus on finance, real estate and the like. Her blog Obsidian Finance Sucks accused the company and executive Kevin Padrick of tax and governmental fraud.
After the company sent her a cease-and-desist letter, Cox issued a statement:
“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.
Cox tells Yahoo she plans to appeal the ruling because bloggers need to be recognized as journalists to protect them from this kind of legal action. She says, “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.”
She adds that bloggers are “oftentimes without the limitations of having to please your advertisers, or your local politician or corporate machine.”
On Cox’s website, she has posted things to the effect that ask if she’s not a journalist or media member, then how did what she wrote affect Obsidian Finance in any way? Which misses the point. Anyone can defame someone. You don’t have to be a journalist to commit defamation.
The court wanted her to produce sources to back up her claims and she tried to say she’s a journalist and should be protected from having to reveal sources. The court ruled that she is not a journalist and therefore not protected under journalistic shield laws.
And the court is right in this case. Just the mere act of posting blog posts does not automatically make one a journalist, not under any of our current laws. Nor should it, because there must be some standards. The line has to be drawn somewhere.
The reason journalists are protected by law is because they are also required to adhere to journalistic ethics and practices. It’s an exchange – the law protects you, if you do your job in accordance with journalists standards.
The court ruled that part of the reason Crystal is not a journalist is because she did not seek to report on both sides of the story, something journalists are expected to do.
But is every blogger NOT a journalist? No. Some are. And some journalists are bloggers. The problem is that statutes and laws need to be amended to include “new media” so that there are requirements and thresholds in place that define journalists, their ethical practices and standards, and the laws that protect them.