Bloggers Are Not Journalists Rules Portland Judge

In the ongoing debate on journalist vs. blogger, a Portland judge’s recent ruling draws a clear distinction between the two. Crystal Cox, a self-identified investigative blogger, was sued by the investment firm Obsidian Finance Group for defamation. She wrote several articles that were highly critical of the firm’s co-founder Kevin Padrick, who told “The damage to me is forever. The Internet is not capable of being undone.”

U.S. District Judge Marco A. Hernandez decided that Cox is not entitled to protection under Oregon’s media shield law because she is not “affiliated with any newspaper, magazine, periodical, book, pamphlet, news service, wire service, news or feature syndicate, broadcast station or network, or cable television system.” He disagrees with her self-identification as “media,” but goes on to say that even if she were entitled protection, it would not be granted due to the case being a “civil action for defamation.”

This case highlights the gap between our slow-to-change institutions and the always-changing Internet. As Matthew Ingram at GigaOm pointed out, there are “shield laws” in 40 states, “but some have been updated to include cover newer forms of media such as blogs, and others haven’t.” Just a little bit north in Washington state, Cox would’ve been protected by an expanded shield law.

It also brings up the issue of who defines journalism. Certainly, the definition of journalism has broadened with the Internet, and surely we have gotten over this blogger vs. journalist discussion a while ago. Jay Rosen at PressThink wrote an essay entitled, “Bloggers vs. Journalists is Over,” back in 2005. But, he writes, “The issue may be fading, but the conflict remains.” Though Rosen argues this from a psychological perspective, it is also applicable on an institutional level. In this case, a court conflicts with a blogger. The laws of one state conflict with another. Even other bloggers have questioned Cox’s journalistic legitimacy.

Interestingly, Padrick responded to the story in Seattle Weekly, saying, “The real threat here is not defining media too narrowly, but defining it too broadly.” He argues that media is worth less when more people can self-identify as media. But doesn’t a broad definition result in more empowerment? More voices and diversity?

What do you think? Should Cox win her appeal?