US Judge Says Bloggers Are Journalists Again

Hooray, bloggers are real journalists again! Just not one in particular.

Back in December 2011, we learned that a U.S. district court judge had ruled that bloggers in Oregon are not part of the media, and therefore, are not protected by Oregon’s media shield laws.

Fireworks

This may or may not have happened after Judge Hernandez's clarification

But Judge Marco A. Hernandez has clarified that he did not mean for his ruling to apply to all bloggers, or at least all Oregon bloggers, only to Crystal Cox.

Cox had been writing critical blog posts about Obsidian Financial Group and co-founder Kevin Padrick, and was sued for defamation by the firm. Cox lost her case after trying to use Oregon’s media shield law as her defense. Hernandez had also awarded Padrick $2.5 million.

Cox appealed the ruling to Hernandez’s court, when he ruled that as a blogger, Cox, could not use Oregon’s media shield law to defend herself.

This sent most of us bloggers into a tizzy. I was especially concerned, since I’ve been a champion of bloggers as citizen journalists. After all, if we’re not considered journalists, then how and why would we serve to educate and inform our communities?

It turns out that’s not what Hernandez meant at all. According to a Courthouse News article, Hernandez wrote:

“In my discussion, I did not state that a person who ‘blogs’ could never be considered ‘media.’ I also did not state that to be considered ‘media,’ one had to possess all or most of the characteristics I recited.

“[T]he uncontroverted evidence at trial was that after receiving a demand to stop posting what plaintiffs believed to be false and defamatory materials on several websites, including allegations that Padrick had committed tax fraud, defendant offered ‘PR,’ ‘search engine management,’ and online reputation repair services to Obsidian Finance, for a price of $2,500 per month.

“The suggestion was that defendant offered to repair the very damage she caused for a small but tasteful monthly fee. This feature, along with the absence of other media features, led me to conclude that defendant was not media.”

(Source: Courthouse News)

This was always something that always bothered me about Cox’s actions. It’s the same thing Yelp was accused of a couple of in 2009 and 2010 (a class-action lawsuit against Yelp was dismissed exactly one year ago):

You cannot ask for payment to undo something you did.

There are people, my company included, that do search engine optimization (SEO). They help companies get their positive news and content to the top of the search engines. But they do not do it to overcome the negative information they put there in the first place.

In other words, if you try to screw a company, you cannot ask for money to unscrew them. If you said negative things about a company, you cannot be paid to then hide those bad things. (We’ll leave the question of Cox’s defamation aside for the moment.)

And that’s what Cox did that made her “not media.”

I’ll talk about blogging ethics in a day or so, but in the meantime, I’m going to breathe a sigh of relief that Judge Hernandez has recognized that bloggers can be considered journalists, and therefore, entitled to a journalist’s defense under Oregon’s media shield laws.

Photo credit: kslavin (Flickr, Creative Commons)

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    About Erik Deckers

    Erik Deckers is the President of Pro Blog Service, a content marketing and social media marketing agency in Indianapolis, IN. He co-authored three social media books, including No Bullshit Social Media with Jason Falls (2011, Que Biz-Tech), and Branding Yourself with Kyle Lacy (2nd ed., 2012; Que Biz-Tech), and The Owned Media Doctrine (2013, Archway Publishing). Erik has written a weekly newspaper humor column for 10 papers around Indiana since 1995. He was also the Spring 2016 writer-in-residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, FL.

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    1. […] stated that his ruling was only meant to apply to Crystal Cox, and not all bloggers. Read my latest blog post for the rest of the […]