Is A Blogger A Journalist? The $2.5 Million Question

An Oregon woman who ran several blogs got some bad news recently, when a judge ruled she was not a journalist for purposes of Oregon’s “shield law.” That decision paved the way for a libel judgment against her in the amount of $2.5 million. Take a look at the link, but very quickly, the woman, Crystal Cox, ran a blog called On it, she posted a mixture of facts, comments and opinions. Obsidian filed a libel suit because it was upset with a posting that seemed more factual in nature. Cox argued that she relied on an inside source for the fact. But she refused to name the source, claiming that she was protected by an Oregon statute that said “persons . . . employed by or engaged in any medium of communication to the public” could not be compelled to identify sources. But the court ruled that Cox was not employed by any “official media establishment.” As such, she couldn’t lawfully refuse to name her source. And because she continued to refuse to name the source, despite the court’s ruling, she could not defend the libel claim. And that resulted in a $2.5 million judgment against her. There has been much discussion about whether bloggers qualify as journalists for purposes of access to court proceedings and for purposes of shield protection. The Oregon case suggests that it may be less a philosophical debate than a question of what the statute says. While I’m not aware of any Ohio decision on this question, I do know that the Ohio shield statute, as it is currently written, applies to traditional outlets – radio, television, and newspapers. So while I would not guess how a court might decide this issue, it is entirely possible that an independent blogger in Ohio might run into the same fate as Ms. Cox.