Thursday, January 26, 2012

Are Bloggers Journalists?

The Internet raises some interesting legal questions, including whether bloggers are journalists. The November 30, 2011 ruling in Obsidian Finance Group v. Cox answered that question about one particular blogger.* The case has generated a number of comments and, after reading the judge's opinion, I am ready to add my observations to the heap.

The judge did not say that bloggers can't be journalists. He did say that they are not automatically journalists, and his finding that Cox did not qualify was based on the specific facts in the case.

So why did the judge conclude that Cox was not a journalist? Here is his analysis.

Defendant fails to bring forth any evidence suggestive of her status as a journalist. For example, there is no evidence of (1) any education in journalism; (2) any credentials or proof of any affiliation with any recognized news entity; (3) proof of adherence to journalistic standards such as editing, fact-checking, or disclosures of conflicts of interest; (4) keeping notes of conversations and interviews conducted; (5) mutual understanding or agreement of confidentiality between the defendant and his/her sources; (6) creation of an independent product rather than assembling writings and postings of others; or (7) contacting "the other side" to get both sides of a story. Without evidence of this nature, defendant is not "media."
The judge classified these as examples of the evidence a blogger could produce and did not raise them to the level of factors to be considered in every case. Furthermore, the written decision does not suggest a blogger must produce all seven types of evidence or that some are more important than others are.

The good news is that any blogger who acts with journalistic integrity is capable of producing the last five types of evidence. And although the answer to the question isn't as simple as counting numbers, five out of seven sounds pretty good.

If a court held that a blogger couldn't be a journalist without journalism classes or affiliation with a recognized news entity, I would be concerned. But that is not this case.

The judge's ruling is simply this: if you want to be treated like a journalist, act like one.

And who can argue with that?

Kathryn Page Camp

*Obsidian Finance Group, LLC v. Cox, No. CV-11-57-HZ (D. Or. Nov. 30, 2011).


  1. Kathryn,

    Thanks for this interesting blog. But do you consider yourself a journalist?

    IMO, blogging varies due to the purpose of the author. For example, a lot of my MySpace blogs (when I blogged there) would be more homiletics than journalism. Other times, my blogs can be entertainment. Some blogs are educational and more like lessons than newsclippings. Some bloggers are PR reps. And then some blogs are just a bored person who has nobody else to talk to. So I can understand the ruling.

    Thanks again.


  2. Jeff,

    You're right--blogs are all different. There are blogs that are truly investigative journalism, blogs that are more like columns (which is where I would place my personal one), and blogs that are pathetic. Some bloggers deserve the extra protections the First Amendment provides to media, and some don't.