Every writer should be aware of the legality of their pieces and the potential to be sued, not just journalists. Journalists certainly have to be aware of what could be considered slanderous, because they always dealing with real people, but writing about real people is not something only done in journalism. Here are a few topics on libel to consider. (And by the way, slander = spoken word and libel = written word).
Satire & Parody
If you’re writing satire, you are mostly exempt from being sued. Mostly. New laws come about because cases that make it to the Supreme Court and present new issues. The world is constantly changing. If you plan on going high profile with your satirical works, I recommend getting a law book. I am not kidding. It gets complicated.
You can actually be sued for posting things on your Facebook and other social media accounts. I would really reconsider before you post to Sally’s timeline and try to get everyone to believe she slept with her boss to get a promotion. On the other hand, if you’re talking about public figures (there are criteria to determine what a “public figure” is), then it is unlikely you affect their reputation in any way, so go ahead and let everyone know that you think President Obama himself caused the stock market to crash.
You submit first-person pieces to a very well-known political website for a living. You finish your article about what everyone was doing outside of your local voting booth when they were waiting to cast their ballot for the next governor. The next day you find out your company is being sued for libel because they published your piece, despite the fact that you had lazily researched some technical information that you didn’t know and made the Democratic candidate look like a fool! Luckily, this was negligence, not actual malice, which are legal terms that determine different consequences.
Don’t lose any sleep over this. Just be aware that your company getting sued over you will probably mean the loss of your job…Be conscious when you write about real people!