o-called “shield laws” have provided protection for at least some journalists who refuse to divulge their sources, something that history teaches us is an imperative if the public is to be exposed to wrongdoing in government and other seats of power.
In the United States, 32 states have passed such laws. The Free Flow of Information Act of 2007 presented before the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Rick Boucher (R-Va.) and Mike Pence (R-Ind.) would extend these protections at the federal level. The bill defines journalism as “the gathering, preparing, collecting, photographing, recording, writing, editing, reporting, or publishing of news or information that concerns local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public.” An identical bill has been introduced in the Senate by Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), and Pete Domenici (R-N.M.).
If passed, this bill would not only provide protection for journalists at a national level, the wording makes no distinction between professional journalists and bloggers. There is precedent for extending protection to bloggers. Last year, California courts ruled that rumor sites like AppleInsider and Powerpage did not have to divulge the source of their stories about unreleased Apple products.
All shield laws exclude certain types of reporting: stories that endanger national security, expose trade secrets, disclose health information, or, murkily, those in which “nondisclosure of the information would be contrary to the public interest.” In contested cases, judges overseeing cases covered by shield law must balance these exceptions against “the public interest in compelling disclosure and the public interest in gathering news and maintaining the free flow of information.”
The bill is supported by Newspaper Association of America, the National Association of Broadcasters and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, among others.
here is much being written about the pluses and minuses of citizen journalism and its influence on professional news gathering, but there’s nothing like a report from the trenches. An excellent example is Hartsville Today, a joint effort by the Hartsville Messenger and the University of South Carolina School of Journalism and Mass Communications, in collaboration with a grant from the Knight Foundation. Over the past year, the website has begun featuring articles posted by the staff of the Messenger, as well as stories and commentary posted by members of the community. The staff learned a lot about recruiting and encouraging citizen journalists; they also learned a lot about adapting to the new dynamics inherent in bottom-up reporting. They’ve taken all that new knowledge and published a “cook book” specifically aimed at small daily and non-daily newspapers. The resulting report, Hartsville Today - The first year of a small-town citizen-journalism site, can be downloaded as a .pdf file. Tips range from soliciting stories to budgeting, ad sales, and technology choices and will be of interest to anyone interested in real-life applications of collaborative reporting.
CyberJournalist.net is an excellent resource for keeping up with the quickly evolving world of online journalism. Sponsored by the Online News Association, the service offers pointers to stories of interest, tips, tools, and serves as a showcase for citizen media initiatives. The site just posted the ten stories most popular with their readers during the past year. Articles about tsunamis and hurricanes followed behind the top story, novel uses of Google Maps. Also on the list are stories about the growing popularity of podcasting and RSS subscriptions.
Bloggers are regularly called to task by traditional journalists who complain that blogged content can be inaccurate, biased, or out-and-out fabrication. In a turn of the tables, Guido Fawkes’ blog of plots, rumours, and conspiracy has announced the winners in its inaugural Press Plagiarist of the Year Award. The criteria for consideration were straightforward: “a story has to be pinched from an original blog source, either verbatim or in essence, and no credit / payment given to the original source.”
The top award went to Peter Wright, editor of Mail on Sunday for lifting an article in whole from The Policeman’s Blog. Second place went to Marina Hyde, former diarist for the Guardian, who apparently liked enough of what she read on Wonkette and Guido Fawkes’ own site that she copied whole sections verbatim and without attribution.
The winners are both British, which makes sense since the anonymous Mr. Fawkes writes from those shores, but journalists around the world are paying attention. We know this because the Guido Fawke’s site lists the server origins of the most prominent on his front page. Just the first three in the alphabetical list provide a glimpse: Associated Newspapers Ltd, 42 returning visits; Bloomberg Financial Markets, 48 returning visits; British Broadcasting Corporation, 103 returning visits.
“…the printer is the only product of civilization necessary to the existence of free men.”
We hear the phrase “citizen journalist” bandied about quite a bit these days, but it is much easier to hypothesize about the future of this movement than to get a clear picture of what exactly is happening today.
The USC Annenberg Online Journalism Review’s Tom Grubisich provides an overview of ten community news sites titled Grassroots Journalism: Actual Content vs. Shining Ideal. He begins by pointing out that while Americans log onto the web by the millions, the relationships that grow up among individuals are largely based on shared interests rather than geography. With the emergence of local news sites, whether independent or associated with print or broadcast organizations, there is opportunity for true grassroots reporting and community dialogue. However, after analyzing the ten sites, Grubisich comes to the conclusion that, “…what you see when you take a closer look, apart from a couple of honorable exceptions, is the Internet equivalent of Potemkin villiages - an elaborate facade with little substance behind it.”
In response, Bayosphere’s Ryan Sholin asks “What are your “shining ideals when it comes to citizen journalism?” Sholin suggests that local newspapers have the readership, advertisers and audience already in place and so are the most likely candidates for true citizen journalist forums, but then he opens up the discussion to his own readers. The comments on both the Bayosphere site and Grubisich’s story help to round out the discussion. Perhaps you’d like to add your own comments there or here.
Citizen journalists wishing to sharpen their interviewing skills would do well to read Dan Gillmor’s interview tips in a series of comments on his Bayosphere blog. I’ll be posting some of the tricks I’ve learned over the years, but Dan’s advice is solid, relevant, and blog-friendly. Good interviewing is an art and, as Gillmor points out, there is no single technique. Still, no matter whether you’re planning to interview your grandfather, the mayor, or the graffiti artist down the block, it pays to learn from the best. The one trick I’ll add here is: Silence can be an interviewer’s best friend. Some of the most telling comments from interviewees have come in the wake of a slightly awkward pause in the conversation.
Washington Post columnist Art Buchwald once wrote, “You can’t make up anything anymore. The world itself is a satire. All you’re doing is recording it.” In today’s column, he provides a series of “fill-in-the-blank” news scenarios for the would-be citizen journalist. Among the possibilities: “Sen. __ __ said it would not be forthcoming, because when Sen. __ __ said, “__ __,” he refused to say he was sorry.” I, for one, am glad Art’s still around.