Here at WaPo Labs, where we develop and test new news products as part of the Washington Post Company, we’re always keeping an eye on how the complex world of journalism is changing and growing.
One of our assistant editors, Emily Schwartz, came across this interesting piece from the New York Times’ Media Decoder blog that calls into question the amorphous distinction between bloggers and journalists: “In $2.5 Million Judgment, Court Finds Blogger Is Not a Journalist.”
Crystal Cox, a Montana law blogger, wrote several opinionated blog posts that were highly critical of the investment firm Obsidian Finance Group and its co-founder, Kevin Padrick. The firm sued Cox, and a judge ruled in its favor, ordering the blogger to pay $2.5 million in damages.
Cox, who represented herself in court, argued that her characterizations of Padrick as a “thug” and a “liar” were based on information derived from a source, and cited Oregon’s shield law for protection.
The judge’s decision, which the Times’ David Carr says “might send a chill up the back of many nontraditional journalists,” reads:
Although the defendant is a self-proclaimed “investigative blogger” and defines herself as “media,” the record fails to show that she is affiliated with any newspaper, magazine, periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system. Thus, she is not entitled to the protections of the law.
Shield laws, which protect journalists from forced disclosure of confidential sources of information, were conceived of before the advent of the Internet. But does that mean that bloggers shouldn’t be entitled to the same protections as traditional journalists? Where is the line between “journalist” and “blogger” drawn?
And who should have the authority to decide, ultimately, what rights each is entitled to?
What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.