Attacking the Fifth Estate: Bloggers Legally Belittled

Jason Stverak

From Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity


Bloggers in Oregon, watch out. That’s because this month an Oregon court ruled that bloggers do not have same protection as the “media.”


This ruling emerged when Crystal Cox, a blogger, was accused of defaming Obsidian Finance Group and its co-founder Kevin Padrick on her blog. She posted that Padrick acted criminally in a federal bankruptcy case. Padrick sued and the court found that Cox was not protected under the state’s media shield law.


This decision has implications for bloggers around the country.


Since there is no legal definition for “the press,” this court ruling is one of the first to explicitly say that bloggers are not the media. This comes only a few short months after a federal court ruled that anyone, including bloggers, may legally record public officials, including police officers. The ruling said:


[C]hanges in technology and society have made the lines between private citizen and journalist exceedingly difficult to draw. The proliferation of electronic devices with video-recording capability means that many of our images of current events come from bystanders with a ready cell phone or digital camera rather than a traditional film crew, and news stories are now just as likely to be broken by a blogger at her computer as a reporter at a major newspaper. Such developments make clear why the news-gathering protections of the First Amendment cannot turn on professional credentials or status.

[Page 13 of the Slip Opinion from Glik v. Cuniffe]


While the Glik case was a victory for citizen journalism, the Oregon ruling is a failure to recognize the drastic changes occurring in the journalism world. Current technological advancements have made the line between citizen journalists and mainstream media harder to define. This is beneficial not only to anyone who produces news but also news consumers as well.


Many forget that when a newspaper goes under, it is not only those reporters who have lost their jobs that are affected. And when a local newspaper is forced to downsize their staff and product, there is a gaping hole in their news coverage that the consumer is losing. Entire communities are left without news coverage and left without access to vital information.


Stepping up to fill the void left when a local newspaper cuts back or closes are citizen journalists. They have proven that it no longer takes press credentials or a New York Times business card to break national news. Citizen journalists have captured government scandals and discovered injustice in their state capitols. They do the same job that the “mainstream reporters” are doing without either a pay check or fancy office.


Citizen journalists are providing a valuable service to their communities. They are relentlessly searching for the truth by preserving liberty and democracy. They are doing all of this without the respect that a protected member of the media has.


Instead of penalizing citizen journalists and failing to recognize their value to the changing media world, the courts should grant them journalistic protections. Those who value news should hope that the Oregon ruling is not followed in other states.


Author Bio:

Jason Stverak is the President of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a leading journalism nonprofit organization dedicated to providing investigative reporters and nonprofit organizations at the state and local level with training, expertise and technical support.


Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity

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