Blurring the Line Between Bloggers and Journalists

A decision by a federal judge in Oregon rippled through the blogosphere after the court ruled bloggers are not media and a Montana blogger must pay $2.5 million in damages.

An Oregon attorney, Kevin Padrick, and the company he co-founded, Obsidian Finance Group LLC, filed a defamation lawsuit against a blogger, Crystal L. Cox of Eureka, Mont., after she called him a thief and a thug on her blog and criticized how he handled a bankruptcy case.

In a written opinion, the judge, Marco Hernandez, ruled the protections that cover reporters working for mainstream media organizations did not apply to her because she is not a journalist.

“The court in that case pointed out that in Oregon, no journalist is protected in a defamation case,” said Nathan Siegel, an attorney who specializes in First Amendment law and an adjunct professor at The University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. “The reality in that particular case is a journalist would not have been protected whether they were a blogger or not.”

Hernandez noted in his written opinion that the plaintiffs were not public figures and the bankruptcy proceedings she blogged about were not a matter of public concern.

Most courts find that the First Amendment protects all individuals from defamation suits whether they are a blogger or not, according to Siegel.

“The court in that case said that bloggers are not afforded any of those protections,” he said. “That’s a very unusual decision.”

The question of whether bloggers should be considered journalists has become imperative as the number of cases similar to the one in Oregon is increasing due to a jump in individuals creating blogs and the use of blogs by mainstream media organizations, according to Siegel.

In court, the question of whether journalists’ protections and privileges will be afforded to bloggers could boil down to employment, according to Siegel. Maryland’s shield law, which protects reporters from having to disclose information concerning confidential sources, applies to student journalists and reporters employed by news organizations.

Salisbury resident Jonathan Taylor, a blogger who created the Lower Eastern Shore News website, said bloggers should not be treated the same as journalists because journalists are held to higher standards. He said he views bloggers as being more of a supplement to journalists.

“While I do not believe bloggers are journalists, I think we should be afforded some protections,” he said.

Taylor said he often consults with his attorney before posting information on his website.

While the standards for journalists and bloggers may not be equal, Taylor said he believes there should be a code of ethics or conduct for bloggers.

“Blogs are a newer form of modern media, but there are no guidelines for what we do,” he said. “It’s like the wild West. Everybody can do what they want.”

Author: AKA John Galt

A small business owner, a tea party organizer, a son, father and husband who is not willing to sell out the future lives of his children.

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