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U.S. Court Rules Oregon Blogger Not A Journalist

Ruling costs Crystal Cox $2.5 million in a defamation case.

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U.S. Court Rules Oregon Blogger Not A Journalist
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UPDATE: Ms. Cox replied to via email to a request for comment. When asked whether she would appeal the ruling she said, “I do Plan to Appeal. Thats all I can Say on that.”

When Obsidian Finance Group, an Oregon-based investment firm, sued blogger Crystal Cox for defamation, she believed that the law would protect her. Cox argued that her work constituted journalism, and that she was therefore protected by an Oregon law that protects journalists from being required to divulge sources. U.S. District Court judge Marco Hernandez disagreed, and ordered Cox to pay $2.5 million in damages to Obsidian Finance.

Crystal L. Cox

Cox runs a small armada of blogs, most dealing with an array of legal and financial issues (a pair of sites devoted to natural health remedies being the exceptions). On several of those blogs – most notably Obsidian Finance Sucks – she has taken issue with the behavior of Obsidian Finance and Kevin Padrick, co-founder of the company. In one post in particular, posted late last year, she accused Padrick of fraud, of dishonesty with Obsidian’s shareholders, and the abuse of his position as the company’s chapter 11 trustee for personal gain.

The post acknowledges that Cox had already received a cease-and-desist from Padrick’s attorney. In response to Cox’s refusal to comply, Obsidian sued for defamation. Cox, who represented herself in court, argued that she was a journalist, and that the information in her post had come from a confidential source, insulating both her and the source from liability. Judge Hernandez wrote in his ruling that internet blogs are not covered by the statute in question, which defines media of communication as “any newspaper, magazine or other periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system.” He further argues, citing state statute, that the protections of Oregon’s journalism shield law do not apply in civil defamation suits, meaning that even if he accepted Cox’s argument that being a blogger made her a journalist, she would not be protected by the shield law in this instance.

After the ruling, Cox posted a flurry of updates to her Obsidian Finance blog. In the posts she argues against the judge’s ruling and cites the publicity the case has garnered as a victory for her.

U.S. Court Rules Oregon Blogger Not A Journalist
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  • http://migrainessymptom.com john

    Good for her. She should continue to uncover the scum

    • http://www.investigativeblogger.com Crystal L. Cox

      Thank You, Bless You

  • http://charlesbreynolds.blogspot.com Charles B Reynolds

    Bloggers are the modern day equivalent of citizen journalist. But the line, in my mind – and a very fine line indeed – comes in the form of one word; “Responsible.” In order for a citizen journalist to be differentiated from just someone with an axe to grind, they must do their “job” responsibly. Sources, documents, video, audio . . . anything that can back up claims made must ALWAYS be both available and valid. Reporting must be founded on FACTS and be presented without bias. Opinion must also be founded on FACTS, but may be tempered with bias, so long as that bias is not done with deliberate and harmful intent. Otherwise, the blogger in question is simply casting aspersions and is nothing more than the aforementioned person with an axe to grind. Were Ms Cox to have had all of the FACTS and documentation (source and resource), the defamation suit would have had little chance to succeed, shield law or no. Were Ms Cox to have had adequate representation, she would have known this. The age old adage of covering one’s own backside is one that any journalist worth their salt already knows.

    I wish Ms Cox the best, but hope she takes another old saying to heart. A person who represents themselves in court has a fool for a client.

  • Sam

    Bloggers are NO journalists! They don’t have a clue about journalism – why should they be protected? Bloggers sometimes think that they know what is going on and mostly they write just stuff which is not true. Without having the knowledgement of a journalist (and even as a journalist) you should think twice what you write and how you write it. Defarmation is one of the common thing bloggers love to do to show how much they supposedly know. Facts not fiction – that’s what most of the readers want from journalists as well as from bloggers. Does she had facts or just assumptions? If so, well she has to pay probably her life long…

    • http://www.pacelegal.com.au adele pace

      Some journalists are so driven by profit that they break all the ethics associated with responsible journalism and some editorial boards have no integrity at all, being driven purely by advertising revenue.

      Some ‘journalists’ write infomercials which they pass off as being content. Some are activists who are only writing want they think will promote their cause.

      There is no way to put a firm definition on what a journalism is. Your definition might not apply to bloggers as they don’t work for a major media organisation.

      Bloggers do also like to shock and slander as a cheap stunt to attract traffic which is despicable. Bloggers also blog for kudos but it isn’t a whole lot different than sensationalised journalism.

      Newspapers are a little bit more careful as they have assets and can be sued, however they have been well known to write sensationalised stories and engage in tabloid journalism, even hacking to sell papers.

  • Karin

    Ridiculous, clearly this judge is not living in 2011. Go Crystal!

  • Matt

    The Judge is correct…being the subject of an “Axe grinding Blogger” I can appreciate how the that company felt. No matter what you respond with, professional or not, the blogger can simply make up whatever they wish. Their belief that slander and freedom of speech are one in the same has come to a halt with this ruling. Bravo Judge!

  • http://australiancloud.com.au colin murfett
    • http://www.pacelegal.com.au adele pace

      Assange could possibly be considered a journalist according to that particular State’s law as he has an organisation. Definitions are unfortunately what matters in the law, at least for the purpose of source shield (as opposed to some other standard, eg Walkley Awards. The first amendment affords bloggers fairly good protection. Courts are pretty deferential towards speech (particularly political). The only thing that can really affect media in the US is the fact that nuisance lawsuits are a reasonably common business tactic and a way of manipulating people. Blanket immunities can be legislated for that very purpose. There are other mechanisms in US law to prevent nuisance lawsuits in other cases eg where there is a disparity of power. (eg to prevent Insurance companies using their humungous power against individuals under certain circumstances). There is always a fine balance between access to the courts and the right to be heard versus the right not to be sued. However it seems certain states have decided they want to make sure they confer immunity on media organisations to ensure they don’t want to be sued, in this case to protect their sources. Unfortunately if you go to your friend who happens to be a blogger you don’t enjoy that level of protection according to the Judge. I hope the Courts expand their definition of ‘media organisation’ to keep pace with the evolving nature of media

  • http://www.pacelegal.com.au adele pace

    As the Judge stated the blogger may not have been protected by shield laws against a defamation suit, but I don’t see any rationale for preventing bloggers from having their sources of information protected. The medium is irrelevant when it comes to the free flow of information, and it shouldn’t matter whether bloggers meet standards laid out by the courts for “traditional journalism”. Bloggers will simply refuse to publish information. A video blogger was imprisoned for more than 7 months, the longest period on record for refusing to divulge news related information. Why should the law discriminate based on technology rather than the substance of what is being ‘reported’? Bloggers are capable of exercising standards of responsible journalism and can’t be simply portrayed as people with an axe to grind. With new technology citizens are in a position to capture scenes on the spot which would not otherwise ever be known to the public. Agree with Colin that you can’t make generalisations about the quality of traditional journalism, and indeed a lot of journalists are turning to other sources (yes..even the internet) to source and check their facts. There isn’t a diminishing investment in quality investigative journalism. Judge each blogger of the type, nature and content of what a blogger posts, rather than make stereotypical assumptions, unless you’d rather cling to outdated notions that all journalists in print media are ‘responsible’, hard hitting and have the freedom to publish exactly what they want.

  • http://photo-journ.com John Le Fevre

    Woooo. Hang on a minute. This article is no more accurate than many of those written by Cox and only goes to add to the claim that there is a difference between professional journalists and bloggers.

    The fuller picture starts to emerge with this article in Forbes: Why An Investment Firm Was Awarded $2.5 Million After Being Defamed By Blogger (http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2011/12/07/investment-firm-awarded-2-5-million-after-being-defamed-by-blogger/ )

    Not only did Cox create numerous publishing sources for her campaign against Obsidian Financial Group (OFG) to dominate Serps, she then approached the company offering to perform PR and reputation management for them for $2,500 a month.

    As a professional journalist and blogger with two distinct business operations – journalism and another supplying website design, content, SEM and PR services – I find her actions amount to extortion.

    In 25-years of journalism and offering PR services (once upon a time running the largest above and below the line PR and marketing company servicing the hi-technology industry in Australia) I have never offered or accepted paid or unpaid professional services work for a company or individual that has been subject to investigative journalism work.

    To offer services aimed at repairing the damage she has been the direct cause of is a clear violation of the codes of ethics and professionalism standards that real journalists comply with when they work.

    While Cox has been successfully sued for defamation and bloggers are voicing their anger at the ruling, a little bit more digging shows that Cos has clearly crossed the professionalism line by first hammering OFG, and then attempting to extort money from them for professional services to repair that damage making her nothing but a privateer and far from a professional journalist.

    That this article, along with all of the other articles outraged at the verdict didn’t bring this important fact to the fore also highlights the differences between professional journalists and those who write or blog for a living.

    • http://www.pacelegal.com.au adele pace

      I am not making any comment on this particular case in terms of the merits. I have read of the offer made to the Plaintiff for reputation management services and I am equally as condemnatory of such practices. I agree it is a form of extortion and we have seen many examples of these kinds of business models being used in this way.

      However I am talking about principle enunciated with respect to distinguishing journalists from bloggers. I think it is troubling that Judges are loathe to treat bloggers as journalists.

      Not all responsible or traditional journalists are ‘responsible’ when it comes to checking sources. Conversely not all bloggers make unfounded assertions and hyperbolic accusations without a sub-stratum of proof.

      I think you have to take a less legalistic view of journalism. The value of journalism is the newsworthiness and good investigative journalism is journalism irrespective of the medium.

      I am more interested in the fact that a publisher/blogger checks their facts and sources and engages in responsible journalism rather than whether they have official media credentials or are affiliated with a recognized news entity.

      Plenty of bloggers can and have reported about major corporate and political scandals responsibly based on their associations with whistleblowers and other persons well qualified to comment on public and corporate wrongdoing.

  • http://www.spyimplants.webs.com don muntean

    Unless Cox had evidence [and she should have posted it too] she shouldn’t have been posting like that!

    My protest website has been online for over 6 years and it wouldn’t be – if the evidences weren’t posted there:

    http://www.spyimplants.webs.com

    There are too many people in cyber-space unaware that the criterion of truth is the same in a digital world – as it is in a paper world…

    I don’t think that bloggers are journalists that said – armchair commentary has become a side-stream of journalism.

    • http://www.pacelegal.com.au adele pace

      I agree with your comment that the criterion of truth is the same in a digital world as in print media.

      Cox is a journalist and bloggers are journalists, but not journalists as defined in law. Legal definitions aren’t the same as english definitions.

      A journalist is anyone who provides information to the public; a professional journalist someone who gets paid for it. Who gets to decide who is a journalist? What one person considers a journalist wouldn’t be to another.

      Truth is also to some extent a subjective thing. Many people don’t consider someone a ‘real journalist’ because they don’t happen to subscribe to their political or other belief system.

  • http://www.spyimplants.webs.com don muntean

    …Cox has designed the website horribly – why would someone want the readable area to be flanked on either side by bright red? Reviewing the site with ‘that’ is difficult. Looking at content I didn’t see any ‘real’ evidences listed there – only assertions and opinions. Judge Hernandez was correct in the decision – in my opinion.

    • http://www.investigativeblogger.com Crystal L. Cox

      I am guilty because of the color of my blog really.. my color changes often.. how shallow is that.. You are Clueless, in my Opinion

      • http://www.spyimplants.webs.com don muntean

        Well that is ‘my opinion’ – the fact is, it’s a bad color to flank a readable area with – I think perhaps you’re response was “shallow” for not taking the comment constructively.

        Of course Ms. Cox – what about ‘real’ evidence?

        I just couldn’t see any on your site. You post ‘known to you only’ assertions and skewed opinions – not solid facts.

        You are not a journalist and you’re not disseminating truth.

        Did you see my legitimate boycott website?

        http://www.spyimplants.webs.com

        Of course, it has been online without – interruption – for over six years.

        I have posted all the ‘real’ evidences – thus I cannot be sued for defamation. It would be unwise for the business in question to try – which is why they haven’t yet tried!

        My site is online because I’m boycotting the loss of my legal and human rights -it’s not about ‘exposing’ the dentist or otherwise publicly shaming the business – it’s about legitimately pressuring – for resolution.

        Ms. Cox, I’m not trying to lecture you but do examine where you’re at – you now owe 2.5 million dollars! The whole world knows of this matter – what about ‘your’ reputation? You may disregard that reality today but rest assured – it will come back to complicate your life at some point.

        The company in question rightly complained and the court rightly ruled…in my opinion.

        Some friendly advice – don’t waste your youth fighting battles – with no real cause.

  • http://writingasaghost.com Denise Rutledge

    Ms. Cox would have been wise to consult an attorney. The moment something is placed in print, the writer has an obligation to prove the charges are true or face a lawsuit. This was one of the first things I learned when I took journalism.

    I will not argue whether Judge Hernandez is right or wrong in ruling that Cox is not a journalist, though if she never provided proof that her allegations were true, it suggests that she did not understand journalism or the laws protecting journalists.

    When the law allows one person to defame another’s character by hiding behind the moniker “journalist”, no one will be safe, including Cox. The laws we have today were shaped by the era of sensational journalism in the late 1800s and early 1900s. We can be thankful they exist.

    If you want to have your blogging activities considered journalism, then behave like a journalist and start a news site. It’s going to take a better case than this one to draw the lines more accurately between bloggers who are bloggers and bloggers who are journalists.

  • http://www.kisfutures.com commodity options

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