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Meet the author:
Jill Olkoski

Jill has a MA in Clinical Psychology, a BS in Computer Science, and a BS in Mechanical Engineering.

She currently owns Aldebaran Web Design in Edmonds (near Seattle WA) and enjoys educating her clients on topics related to small business website design.

In Jill's previous life, she spent 17 years in the engineering and quality organizations of a Fortune 100 tech company.


Bloggers are not Journalists: Oregon Blogging Defamation Lawsuit

December 21st, 2011

All bloggers should read this Reuters article “Judge in US defamation rules blogger not journalist“. Sorry if you’ve already heard of this, I’ve been on vacation and am just finding out now. 🙂

A blogger in Oregon did her own “investigation” on an attorney and was sued for defamation and lost. She claimed she didn’t have to prove her allegations and was protected because she was a journalist, part of the media. Reuters states:

“Media organizations and others are often protected by the “actual malice” legal standard established in a 1964 U.S. Supreme Court decision, which holds that under the First Amendment, journalists to be liable for defamation must know or have warning signs their inflammatory statements against a public figure are false.”

The blogger was not deemed a “journalist” or part of the “media” by the judge, and therefore her writings were not protected.

I found this part of the Reuters article astounding:

“Attorneys for Padrick presented as evidence a Jan. 19 email from Cox, sent days after she was sued for defamation by Padrick and Obsidian, in which she offered the firm her services “to protect online reputations and promote businesses” for $2,500 a month. Cox denied she was trying to extort money.”

Wow. Let me say it again. Wow. I was curious, so I checked out the blogger’s blog, and indeed, she has “reputation manager” as one of her service offerings. Wow.

Regardless of her motivation, this blogging defamation lawsuit will have a chilling effect on bloggers – it’s what Reuters thinks, and frankly I agree with that. Note the blogger is in Montana and the person defamed was in Oregon. In the Reuters article, it says that Cox (the blogger) plans to appeal the decision.

Is blogging journalism? There are surely journalists who write blogs, but all bloggers aren’t journalists.

Here’s another take on the lawsuit by Forbes: “Why An Investment Firm Was Awarded $2.5 Million After Being Defamed By Blogger“. It offers another perspective stating:

“The facts in the case are far more complicated, and after hearing them, most journalists will not want to include Cox in their camp.”

I read this Forbes article, and granted, I can’t imagine a journalist taking out a domain like “” – maybe it’s defamation, maybe it’s whistleblowing, I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem like journalism. But certainly there are many blog articles that should be considered journalism – I don’t know what the legal definition of journalism is.

Here’s another thought provoking article on this lawsuit: Debate about Crystal Cox blogging case misses a key legal point. Angelotti says that it doesn’t matter whether she was found to be a “journalist” or not, because even if she was, the “shield law” might have not allowed her to make claims without proof:

“My advice to bloggers operating in the state of Oregon is lobby to get your shield law improved so bloggers are covered, said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told the AP. But do not expect the shield law to provide you a defense in a libel case where you want to rely on an anonymous source for that information.”

And if you’re a blogger in Washington State, like me, here’s another article by the Seattle Weekly: Crystal Cox, Oregon Blogger, Isn’t a Journalist, Concludes U.S. Court–Imposes $2.5 Million Judgement on Her. This articles has links to other related articles for bloggers in Washington State: Unlike Oregon, Bloggers Are Journalists in Washington State, Do Qualify for Legal Protections.

The Seattle Weekly concludes:

“But it’s also important to note that even if Cox had been awarded shield-law protections in the lawsuit, she still most likely would have lost her case, because she was never able to prove her accusations against Padrick were true, with or without her secret source.

So while Cox’s fate has and should send ripples of concern throughout the blogging and journalism community, the flip side of that coin is that if bloggers are able to post defamatory articles all over the Internet where they will permanently remain, it can have an ill effect on the entire medium of Internet journalism.”

J. Olkoski
Aldebaran Web Design, Seattle
Jill Olkoski has a BS in Engineering, a BS in Computer Science and an MA in Clinical Psychology. She delights in using her advanced technical and psychological skills to help small business owners develop cost-effective and successful websites.

One Response to “Bloggers are not Journalists: Oregon Blogging Defamation Lawsuit”

  1. Paul Jones Says:

    This post has really been helpful and i have differnetly learned some new stuff.

    Thanks a lot and i hope to read more of your stuff.

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