In a recent court decision an appeals court in New Jersey has found shield laws protecting journalists from revealing sources don't apply to bloggers, underlining a key difference that might be bad news for citizen journalists.
The decision arose from a defamation suit brought against a blogger, Shellee Hale, byToo Much Media, LLC. The company supplied software to online porn sites and claimed it had its reputation tarnished by comments the blogger had posted on a forum called Oprano.com. The Oprano sometimes refers to itself as the "Wall Street Journal of the pornography industry."
According to FindLaw, TMM claimed Hale's posts had tarnished its reputation by her claims the company had broken state laws protecting consumers from identity theft and that executives had threatened her (the blogger's) life.
In the suit TMM asked Hale to reveal the sources for her allegations. Hale countered by attempting use the shield law to maintain she was a blogger and not required to reveal how she acquired the information,
At the time Hale had established a life coach business using computers to interact with clients and was concerned about the amount of unsolicited pornographic material she was receiving. According to court documents she started a website called "Pornafia," www.pornafia.com, purportedly "to inform the public on scams, fraud, [and] technological issues" in the adult entertainment industry."
Since most states have shield laws, a journalist is able to refuse to name sources in certain circumstances, but the New Jersey appeals court declined to find bloggers as journalists and found Hale could not use the shield law. They said she was not a member of a media organization and had not performed in a journalist's role, such as fact-checking.
The court found in its ruling, Hale's writings on the site to "amount to no more than a letter to the editor comment on an article published by the 'newspaper.'
In upholding a lower court decision, the appellate court judge said TMM did not have to show Hale acted with malice in order to collect monetary damages.