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Is a Blogger a Journalist?

OPB | Dec. 19, 2011 9:06 a.m. | Updated: Sept. 10, 2013 10:59 p.m.

Crystal Cox considers herself an investigative journalist, but her only outlets are the websites she’s created to write about legal issues. In one of many blog posts she wrote about Obsidian Finance Group (an Oregon firm), she was critical of the company and called its co-founder a “thug” and a “liar.” When Obsidian sued her, she said she had an inside source that backed her allegations. She tried to use Oregon’s shield law — which protects journalists from revealing their sources — to protect her, but the judge found that Cox was indeed not a journalist and, as such, could not be protected by the shield law.

Cox, who represented herself, also argued that Obsidian’s claim was unfounded because they never asked her for a retraction. Under Oregon’s retraction law, a defamation case cannot go forward unless the person who claims to have been defamed has first asked for a retraction or correction and not received it, but that law only applies to printed or broadcast material.

A federal judge ruled (pdf) against Cox’s legal arguments. The ruling requires her to pay The jury in the case required her to pay $2.5 million in damages. The case has made international news and has reinvigorated the question of whether bloggers are journalists. Should bloggers be protected by the same laws that protect traditional journalists?

In a world where more and more news is found online, how can those lines be drawn? What punishment, if any, should Cox — and bloggers like her — face for defaming someone? Should traditional journalistic standards apply to everyone who writes a story online?

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