Does the World Wide Web make you your own ‘media outlet?’
If you hop online, sign up for a blogging service, and start writing paragraphs grouped together and published on a regular basis, does that make you a journalist?
According to U.S. District Court Judge Marco A. Hernandez — um, no.
He slapped blogger Crystal Cox with a $2.5 million fine after he found one of her posts about Obsidian Financial Group to uphold Obsidian’s charges of defamation. Why? The post felt more “factual,” but because Cox refused to reveal the name of the “inside source” feeding her the information, she couldn’t prove the information was true. Plus, she wasn’t blogging for any organized media outlet, so media shield laws didn’t apply to her.
On the one hand, it’s scary that a blogger could be sued in this manner for writing about information they were told by one or more sources. On the other hand…do bloggers have the right to try doing the work of professional journalists when they have never worked for a media outlet before?
In the digital realm, this question is debated constantly. Free online tools exist that essentially turn any aspiring writer into their very own media outlet with a workforce of one. Does the World Wide Web force these people to forfeit journalistic protection?
Perhaps the judge’s ruling represents an archaic, non-digitized view of journalism. Or perhaps the judge is helping to preserve the basic professional principles of journalism, printed or digital.
What do you think? Should Crystal Cox have been sued? Or did she have the right to blog what she blogged?