A few days ago, I posted a piece about the Pepper Spray incident at UC Davis. When people saw the original video clip, they overwhelmingly supported students and felt the police had acted harshly and without justification. When I posted a longer video clip, those who commented on my blog, on Twitter and Facebook were about evenly divided on whether police actions were justified or not.
The point of my post seems to have gotten a little lost. I was calling for a need for balance in citizen-generated news content. I was emphasizing that when we see content from sources we don’t know, we need to keep an open mind on what we see.
Yesterday, an Oregon Judge ruled that Crystal L. Cox, had to fork up $2.5 million in libel damages because she was not a journalist, and therefore not protected by Oregon Shield Laws. This ruling, in my view, is hogwash. It goes against at least two previous rulings and I am reasonably certain that if Ms. Cox stops trying to defend herself in court, a decent lawyer will win her case on appeal.
Social media and traditional media is all media. Every company is now a media company and every person who posts on Facebook–or anywhere else–is now a journalist. And as has always been the case, there is a chasm of difference in the quality of reporting in the media–all of the media.
So while I think Cox deserves to be called a journalist, protected by Shield Laws, I don’t think she is a very good one. Take a second to read the post that got her into trouble. It is more name-calling than it is a report. The names that could be considered libelous are: “Thug, thief and liar.” Those terms can certainly be considered defamatory, a key issue in any libel suit. Her tone of writing seems intended to hold an executive up to public scorn, another component of libel.
In reading the Cox blog post, I am unsure whether or not what she wrote is true, and truth is the ultimate defense of libel.
In short, while I absolutely defend Cox’s right to be a journalist, I do not defend a blogger’s right to slander someone. The content is justifiably challengeable, if you ask me, whether the publisher is Crystal Cox or the NY Times.
To me this case and the Pepper Spray Videos are two closely related issues. It is self-evident that we are now the media. But what needs to evolve is that we need to behave with the same level of responsibility that professional journalists have been expected to use since long before the first blog was posted to the internet.