Monday, March 21, 2005

Rocky Mountain News sides with the bloggers

An editorial in Saturday's Rocky Mountain News begins thusly:

Count us among the growing legions who embrace the notion that Web bloggers deserve the same shield-law protections accorded to other journalists.

Color me thrilled to see the MSM supporting bloggers in this way, unlike some newspapers.

The only depressing thing about the editorial is this:

Unfortunately, Colorado's law appears to exclude Internet journalists. It defines "mass media" as "any publisher of a newspaper or periodical; wire service; radio or television station or network; news or feature syndicate; or cable television system." So the need for a tech-savvy update is acute, preferably before an Internet-related case lands in a Colorado court.

I wonder though - does this really restrict bloggers from invoking Colorado's shield law? The Rocky Mountain News' interpretation of Colorado's shield law uses a "strict interpretation" of its definition of mass media.

But there's another commonly used standard for interpreting laws -- original intent, or originalism. To quote Wikipedia:

Originalism in constitutional interpretation is the view that the meaning of a written constitution is (or should be) consistent with the meaning as it was originally understood by those who drafted and/or ratified the constitution. Originalism is especially prominent in connection with controversies over the interpretation of the United States Constitution.

Of course IANAL, but it seems to me that the law's intent is to protect journalists, not to protect the ennumerated forms of media. A looser interpretation of the definition of mass media in the law could include blogs under the category of periodical or even news or feature syndicate.

This is clearly an important issue that needs to be resolved. The interesting thing is that we're likely to end up with many different interpretations and laws that address an issue that is undeniably global in nature, that is, any issue that involves the Internet. Maybe someday the laws will catch up. For now, I just want to see as many state courts (and maybe even the Supreme Court) interpret these shield laws as I believe their authors intended.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

And we wonder why journalism is in decline

Much of the commentary about the Bush administration' production of prepackaged 'news reports' has focused on whether the administration is guilty of disseminating propaganda.

Honestly, though, why wouldn't they do everything they can to control the news as long as the media and the public are letting them get away with it? For my part, I'm more pissed off at the media for distributing this crap than I am with the administration for producing it.

I love the way Dan Gilmor described his feelings about this in a recent post:

I reserve special contempt for the TV stations that used this rancid material...

Gilmor's post also pointed me to a damning statement in NY Times' columnist Frank Rich's recent column, Enron: Patron Saint of Bush's Fake News:

At last weekend's Gridiron dinner, Mr. Bush made a joke about how "most" of his good press on Social Security came from Armstrong Williams, and the Washington press corps yukked it up. (emphasis added)

And we wonder why journalism is in decline. Come on, guys, how can we expect the public to respect us if we don't even respect ourselves?

Collaborative book (re)writing, or why Lessig rules

Lawrence Lessig decided to update his 1999 book Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. Did he hole himself up in his office like a typical author? Of course not. He created a wiki so everyone could contribute to the update. He calls Code v.2 "a book by Lawrence Lessig and You."

This is a perfect example of how the Internet can be used to create a whole greater than the sum of the parts without devolving into chaos. The structure here (an author who coordinates a self-motivating group of contributors) is similar to the way open source software is created (I'm particularly thinking of Linux.)

I don't see why news can't be created the same way -- a journalist coordinating a self-motivating group of contributors. It's a system that encourages community, makes readers invested in the process (and hopefully less attitudinal about journalists), and gathers more information than one journalist could ever hope to amass. If we're lucky, this is what the future of journalism will look like.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

BBC News incorporates citizen journalists

It's hard to tell if this is really a blog, but BBC News is running what it calls the Harare election blog, written by a 22-year-old receptionist in Zimbabwe.

The contents are refreshingly honest and clearly written (I wonder if they're edited). Here's an excerpt:

I've heard there are political meetings for both Zanu-PF and MDC going on and the state-run Herald newspaper says there have been plenty of Zanu-PF rallies outside Harare - some taking place in schools - where large donations are given.

A friend of mine phoned to say she'd tracked down a cleaning product similar to the one I usually use - which I had been fruitlessly searching for - in a shopping centre near where she works.

So instead of going to church this Sunday, I spent the day washing, ironing... and cleaning the stove.

I think there are two significant things about this snippet:

1. People all across the world are ready, willing, and able to express themselves when given the opportunity.

2. Most people's political lives are tangled up with their daily lives -- in other words, politics are important, but so are cleaning products.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Phew! Crisis averted in Apple/blogger ruling

The First Amendment took a bit of a hit in a judge's ruling related to Apple's case against bloggers who published trade secrets.

From CNET's coverage of the ruling:
"The bottom line is there is no exception or exemption in either the (Uniform Trade Secrets Act) or the Penal Code for journalists--however defined--or anyone else," wrote Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge James Kleinberg.

Compared to what he could have said, I'm actually okay with that. Not that I'm not a staunch defender of the First Amendment, but there's a hell of a lot more case history defending the First Amendment than there is classifying bloggers as journalists.

In CNET's interpretation, the judge "avoided the question of whether the enthusiast sites qualified for the same legal protections as traditional journalists." But a comment in the article from Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, makes me even more confident that, while Kleinberg may not have explicitly identified bloggers as journalists, he certainly implied that they should be treated similarly:

"It's a thoughtful but seriously wrong decision," Scheer said. "Under this logic, if the Wall Street Journal ran a story about these documents, it could be prosecuted criminally. That's an absurd result."

Maybe so, but a ruling that bloggers can't qualify as journalists would have been even more absurd.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Are they soldiers or journalists?

Army Times is reporting on the growing use of blogs among soldiers deployed to Iraq.

This is the kind of real-time, insider look at war the folks back home have not had in previous conflicts, and it’s catching on quick.
For some, blogging is a rebellion against mainstream media, which, they say, leave out of their newscasts and publications important stories about the war.

So I ask, are these bloggers journalists? They have an extremely valuable perspective and are in a better position to report on the war than most MSM journalists.

One thing they are clearly lacking is objectivity. But I've argued against the overemphasis on objectivity for judging any journalist before. One could argue that the direct effect war has on their lives irreparably skews their perspective on events. But reporters have regularly put themselves in harm's way to get the story.

Truly, how are soldiers who blog any different? And even if they are different, why does that make their contribution to our knowledge any less important than what we get from 'journalists'?

Bloggers at risk from more than governments

Following up on my earlier post on the Committee to Protect Bloggers comes this gem from Reason magazine. (It's from the February issue but I just happened across it; evidently after seeing the cover I wasn't as inclined to read that particular issue.

It seems that a group called Islamic Army has threatened to murder a number of Iranian bloggers because of 'insults to Allah' on their blogs.

I hate to contribute to stereotypes, but does anyone know of any other non-governmental groups who go around threatening bloggers?

John Perry Barlow blogs from a conference closed to MSM

Barlow has a lot of interesting things to say in this post, which he wrote at The International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism, and Security. The most amazing thing about the post, however, is that he was able to post it at all:

The security is intense and the press is excluded.( Though, interestingly, I am posting these words from inside a session, along with the many other bloggers.)

Friday, March 11, 2005

So-so SPJ article on blogging and journalism (with one great line)

An article in the Society for Professional Journalists' Quill magazine on blogging covers well-known territory for anyone who has been paying attention for the last couple of years. But writer Patrick Beeson did distill the relationship between blogging and journalism rather accurately and succintly:

A blog still amounts to a form, in this case a Web site, rather than a discipline, as journalism is.

It's clear to me that all four combinations of blogs and journalism are valid:
1. Bloggers who practice journalism
2. Bloggers who don't practice journalism
3. Journalists with a blog
4. Journalists without a blog

I believe that bloggers who practice journalism can signal their intent by adopting's Bloggers' Code of Ethics. I'm not saying that all journalists abide by a code of ethics, but I am saying that good ones do. To establish credibility, bloggers should hold themselves to the highest standards they can find. The code is a step down that road.

Peering through the gates, courtesy of the MSM

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article today (available, at least for now, without subscription) about the growing accessibility of White House pool reporters transcripts online.

For many years, these reports have been available only to the White House reporting corps. But now that they're distributed by email instead of in hard copy, they're available on the Internet.

The irony is palpable. A highly select group of reporters are invited to follow the President in exchange for reporting on his every move to the rest of the White House press corps. Knowing their audience, the reporters sometimes make flippant remarks, which, as the article says, don't make it into the reporters stories. Until the Internet, the White House press corps was able to keep the gates to the President closed to the rest of us, letting out only the information they thought appropriate.

Now that the transcripts are available online, they are available for perusal and interpretation to allcomers. The gates have been opened. The MSM is caught between a rock and a hard place - they have to have the pool reports to do their jobs, but the existence of the pool reports is making their jobs, at least as they perceive them, obsolete.

Note: After searching for a while, it seems Wonkette is by far the most reliable source of White House pool report transcripts. Lots of people quote bits and pieces, though. If anyone knows of an equally reliable or better source, I'd like to know about it.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Why Apple, why?

I'm writing this on a Macintosh Powerbook. It is one of my two most prized possessions. At the moment, looking at it is making me nauseous.

I had read that Apple was suing three websites for releasing product information before it had been officially announced (see MacDailyNews for more background.)

What I just became aware of are the following facts reported by InformationWeek:

Apple maintains that California's Shield Law, which protects journalists from being forced to reveal sources, should not apply to Internet sites. In addition, the firm stated in court filings that free speech protections likewise should not apply to the three Internet sites. (Quote from InformationWeek.)

To be more specific about what Apple is claiming, let's look at an excerpt from a document Apple filed with the court that the EFF has posted on its website entitled Opposition to Motion for Protective Order:

Consistent with its limited purposes and scope, the Shield can be invoked only by certain enumerated newspersons... The choice of certain enumerated newspersons reflects the professional standards that define those classes.... Although the law has been repeatedly amended to include new forms of media, it has never been enlarged to cover posting information on a website. Persons who post such information, moreover, are not members of any professional community defined by standards and common practices. Indeed, anyone with a computer and Internet access could claim the Shield if O'Grady's arguments were accepted.

According to my grad school media law textbook, The First Amendment and the Fourth Estate (copyright 1997), the question of whether the 'institutitional press' has any greater rights than that of the public as a whole is still very much in question. One of the clearest reasons for not giving the institutional press greater protection was articulated by Chief Justice Warren Burger:

Burger foresaw difficulty in defining what was and was not included in the 'institutional press' if it were to be accorded special status. Including some entities while excluding others would be 'reminiscent of the abhorred licensing system' of England, which the First Amendment was meant, in part, to prevent. He noted that the Court had not, in related matters, allowed officials 'to distinguish the protected from the unprotected on the basis of such variables as content of expression, frequency or fervor of expression, or ownership of the technological means of dissemination.

I am not a lawyer, but it seems to me that if the Supreme Court doesn't make distinctions between the press and the public when applying First Amendment protections, it might be worth considering that they have a good reason (not that I'm uncategorically defending the Supreme Court, mind you.)

I always thought that one of the biggest threats to free speech on the net was that Microsoft controlled the user interface because of the overwhelming use of Internet Explorer. It seemed to me that gave them more power than I was comfortable with any company having over the Internet.

But what Apple is arguing in this case is reprehensible. How any technology company could suggest that free speech protections should not apply to the Internet is beyond me.

What in the world am I going to do with my Powerbook (let alone my iPod)?

Thursday, March 03, 2005

In support of's Bloggers' Code of Ethics has proposed a bloggers' code of ethics based on the Society for Professional Journalists ethics code. I think bloggers agree with and commit to following the code should post a link or graphic to that effect on their site. I'm not saying all bloggers have to follow this code, but it is a good starting poing for bloggers interested in establishing credibility.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

More brave bloggers

I just came across a great blog: Committee to Protect Bloggers. It reports on bloggers all over the world who have been arrested or threatened by governments because of their blogs.

Many of the jailed bloggers are from Muslim countries, including Iran, Bahrain, Tunisia, and Malaysia. The site also reports on the plight of Chinese bloggers. No surprise, you might say - people in these countries have never been free to speak their minds.

But what about Christophe Grebert, who's being sued for defamation by the mayor of Puteaux, France? Or Jani Uusitalo, who's being investigated for defamation by the police in Oulu, Finland after writing about a local school?

To say the least, Committee to Protect Bloggers is an extremely important website. It is reporting on the frontier of the battle for freedom of speech. Kudos to its founders, and best wishes to the bloggers whose bravery is covered on the site.