Oregon Judge Marco Hernandez has ruled against Chrystal Cox, who bills herself as an “Investigative Blogger Exposing Corruption“, in a defamation action brought by the Obsidian Finance Group. Claiming a “confidential source” gave her the information that was the basis of the statements at issue, Cox believed that she was protected by Oregon’s Shield Law, which allows journalists to keep their sources a secret. Judge Hernandez, however, disagreed, ruling that the Shield Law is limited to traditional media (broadcast news, newspapers and magazines), adding that Cox has failed to show that she has any evidence of an education in journalism or “any credential of proof of any affiliation with a recognized news entity.” Without the protection of the Shield Law, the claims will progress and she faces a potential $2.5 million judgment. Ms. Cox plans to appeal.
This is the second recent ruling that threatens digital journalism and anonymity. In June, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that online discussion forum postings by journalists are not covered by New Jersey’s Shield Law. The Court did not believe that the protections were intended to cover any statement posted on-line, otherwise, everyone with a Facebook account could claim the protections afforded to journalists. The bottom line: Bloggers can’t count on keeping their sources confidential, which should enter into the calculus of what they are willing to say online if liability is a concern.