Are bloggers journalists?

In the internet age the debate around what constitutes journalism is raging.  Nowhere has it come to a more pointed conclusion than in Oregon where legal blogger Crystal Cox was denied the protections afforded to classically-defined journalists.  The outcome of the lawsuit concluded that Cox owed an investment firm $2.5M:

Representing herself in court, Cox had argued that her writing was a mixture of facts, commentary and opinion (like a million other blogs on the web) and moved to have the case dismissed. Dismissed it wasn’t, however, and after throwing out all but one of the blog posts cited by Obsidian Financial, the judge ruled that this single post was indeed defamatory because it was presented, essentially, as more factual in tone than her other posts, and therefore a reasonable person could conclude it was factual.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Washington state Bruce Johnson weighed in and notes that the law he drafted for that state would have likely provided Cox protection as it was based upon an incident in California:

Johnson says that he wrote the shield law shortly after the case O’Grady v. Superior Courtwas decided in California. In that case, Apple sued a blogger who had published leaked information from the company. The blogger had refused to reveal the source of the leaked information, and after a long, arduous path through the courts, the 6th District U.S. Court ruled that the blogger was in fact a media member and therefore did not have to turn over the information.

Likewise, the plaintiff’s attorney weighs in with his argument:  should we be able to self-identify ourselves as media?

So the discussion comes full circle to the definition of “media.” Let me reiterate that our case did not turn in any way on the Oregon Shield Law. And even if Cox was entitled to heightened First Amendment protection we are confident the jury would have found in our favor using a higher standard given the lack of any proof of the truthfulness of Cox’s statements.

However, for societal purposes the definition of media is important (even if it wasn’t for our case). Should someone be able to self-proclaim themselves to be “media?” How should media be defined? I fully agree that the medium shouldn’t define who is and who is not media. However, if anyone can self-proclaim themselves to be media, then the concept of media has been rendered worthless. What some reporters writing on this topic are missing is that cheapening the definition of media is far more of an attack on true media (and the First Amendment) than anything else. When everyone is media the concept of media is gone for all purposes. The real threat here is not defining media too narrowly, but defining it too broadly. (As to our case remember that Cox presented no evidence that she was media regardless of how it was defined unless the definition is that anyone with a computer is media.) The same standards should apply regardless of the medium, be it internet, print, radio, tv, etc.

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