A plaintiff can establish negligence on the part of the defendant by showing that the defendant did not act with a reasonable level of care in publishing the statement at issue. This basically turns on whether the defendant did everything reasonably necessary to determine whether the statement was true, including the steps the defendant took in researching, editing, and fact checking his work. Some factors that the court might consider include:
the amount of research undertaken prior to publication;
the trustworthiness of sources;
attempts to verify questionable statements or solicit opposing views; and
whether the defendant followed other good journalistic practices.
While you can't reduce your legal risks entirely, if you follow good journalistic practices you will greatly reduce the likelihood that you will be found negligent when publishing a defamatory statement. Review the sections in this guide on Practical Tips for Avoiding Liability Associated with Harms to Reputation and Journalism Skills and Principles for helpful suggestions.
Examples of Public and Private Figures
Review this list of examples to help understand the difference between public figures/officials, limited-purpose public figures, and private figures for purposes of defamation law.
Public Official (A mayor is an elected official and therefore is a public official for purposes of defamation law.)
George W. Bush
Public Official (The President of the United States is an elected official and therefore is a public official for purposes of defamation law.)
Public Figure (The President’s wife is a person who has pervasive power and influence in society and is therefore a public figure for purposes of defamation law.)