Judge Hits Blogger With $2.5 Million Charge for Not Being a Journalist


In a case that’s sending a frightening message to the blogger community, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that a blogger must pay $2.5 million to an investment firm she wrote about — because she isn’t a real journalist.

As reported by Seattle Weekly, Judge Marco A. Hernandez said Crystal Cox, who runs several blogs, wasn’t entitled to the protections afforded to journalists — specifically, Oregon’s media shield law for sources — because she wasn’t “affiliated with any newspaper, magazine, periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system.”

The Obsidian Finance Group sued Cox in January for $10 million for writing several blog posts critical of the company and its co-founder, Kevin Padrick. Obsidian argued that the writing was defamatory. Cox represented herself in court.

The judge threw out all but one of the blog posts cited, focusing on just one (this one), which was more factual in tone than the rest of her writing. Cox said that was because she was being fed information from an inside source, whom she refused to name.

Without the source, she couldn’t prove the information in the post was true — and thus, according to the judge, she didn’t qualify for Oregon’s media shield law since she wasn’t employed by a media establishment. In the court’s eyes, she was a blogger, not a journalist. The penalty: $2.5 million.

The debate over whether bloggers are journalists has been going on for years, but the consensus has been largely settled — on the opposite side of what Judge Hernandez has ruled. Attorney Bruce E. H. Johnson, who wrote the media shield laws in next-door Washington State, told Seattle Weekly that those laws would have protected Cox had her case been tried in Washington.

In a more high-profile case, an editor from Gizmodo escaped criminal charges after revealing to the world an iPhone prototype lost in a bar. Although police raided the California home of editor Jason Chen in 2010, the case was cited as a test for that state’s media shield law, and the district attorney said publicly this year that no charges would be filed to anyone from the site.

When discussing the case, Steve Jobs told The Wall Street Journal‘s Walt Mossberg that he believed Chen was “a guy,” not a journalist. Mossberg countered that he himself was a blogger, and that he thought bloggers were journalists. (You can see the exchange in this video, at about the 16:00 mark.)

Are bloggers the same as journalists? And if not, what is the dividing line? Share your thoughts in the comments.


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