Friday, December 04, 2009

Paying the Piper

One of the complaints you hear about bloggers is that they aren't really a replacement for newsgathering organizations. That's true, but it's largely irrelevant. While other bloggers consider themselves citizen journalists, I never have.

Still, you have to wonder about moves like this one that Mitch Berg documents, which would deny bloggers the "press shield" protection offered working journalists. He produces the proposed language from Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois:


In section 10(2)(A), strike clause (iii) and insert the

[a "journalist" is shielded if he/she] (iii) obtains the information
sought while working as a salaried employee of, or independent contractor for,
an entity—

(I) that disseminates information by print, broadcast, cable, satellite, mechanical, photographic, electronic, 1or other means; and

(II) that—
(aa) publishes a newspaper, book, magazine, or other periodical;
(bb) operates a radio or television broadcast station, network, cable system, or satellite carrier, or a channel or programming service for any such station, network, system, or carrier;
(cc) operates a programming service; or
(dd) operates a news agency or wire service;

There's a lot of mischief here. Would this feature be considered a periodical? Or would I, in the course of producing my work, have to periodically publish a hard copy of this blog and distribute it somehow?

But more important is this:

In section 10(2)(B), strike ‘‘and’’ at the end.
In section 10(2)(C), strike the period at the end and insert ‘‘; and’’.
In section 10(2), add at the end the following:
(D) does not include an individual who gathers or disseminates the protected information sought to be compelled anonymously or under a pseudonym.

So anyone who blogs but does not use his/her own name is basically SOL.

Mitch, who of course blogs under his own name, has a particular concern about this issue, since he does a lot of reporting on issues he holds dear, especially charter schools. He actually does fit the bill of citizen journalist. He also makes the following relevant point:

The conservative blogosphere is dominated by independents who cover their fields of expertise, whatever they are (this blog: music, financial planning, wine, tomatos and Minnesota politics) for the pure, unadulterated love of the game. From Power Line (which covers all they survey) to Speed Gibson (who patrols the ramparts of northwest-suburban education), we mostly do it because we want to, money be damned.
Speed Gibson is a great example: he's a concerned citizen. He's tough but he's fair and he does a lot of original and important reporting on what goes on in his school district. And it's hard to see the benefit of denying him the press shield.

Of course, it may not matter that much longer anyway. Consider this (via Instapundit):

Section editors at Dallas Morning News now report to sales managers -- More here and here.

That's the next post.


my name is Amanda said...

Mitch Berg's title is "Democrats: Criminalizing Dissent." SO ridiculous. (And I would have commented there, but I'm not interesting in registering.) The emphasis in the bill appeared to me to be a definition of journalism, hardly mischief. The press shield is highly controversial even for just journalists, and now bloggers need it too? Despite my skepticism, I AM open to hearing why bloggers need a press shield - really. Why?

The idea that denying a press shield limits freedom seems like the same kind of logic anonymous commenters use to express their opinions. (Dear ALL Anonymous Commenters: You not free until you can put your name next to your opinions.)

We already have freedom of speech in this country. Argh.

Aside from that, Mr. D, if bloggers should have a press shield, wouldn't they need to some kind of official certification of their indie journalist status? Otherwise, anybody could just whip up a blog whenever they wanted to avoid a subpoena. It would be incredibly unfair to have judges deciding this on a case-by-case basis - "well, this is obviously a blog that does a lot of reporting, but this one does less, so this person gets a press shield, but this other person doesn't." Therefore, we would need to spend money on a government agency who does the certifying, and I didn't 'Pubs were about that kind of thing at all.

Mr. D said...


It's an interesting issue to me, because I'm thinking more of what Mitch does or what Speed does. They are reporting, working on stories that other people don't tell. They may be amateur journalists, but they are doing journalism.

And the reason I as a conservative am interested in the topic is that it's a matter of governmental power. The fact that you bring up some sort of "official certification" is precisely the issue. Why the hell should anyone have to have a certificate to practice journalism? There are reasons for licensing laws with certain professions, like medicine, where it takes years of training and expertise to ensure a level of competence, especially since the actions a doctor takes can be a matter of life and death. The state has a compelling interest in that. Journalism? Not so much.

I'm actually more interested in the second part; that piece I'll write in the next few days.

Gino said...

i dont pretend to be anything more than a slob with a keyboard, but i've blogged a few things with intent that they be googled and found, and therefore informative: about half of my movie and restaurant reviews were with this purpose (and most of these were indeed googled: mission accomplished).
i've currently got one in the pipe concerning bullet performance in the field.

in a primitive way, this is journalism. and i should be allowed the same protections as any food editor/movie reviewer who writes for any failing news publication.

Mr. D said...

Excellent point, Gino. We all blog because we know there's an audience out there. And your reviews are certainly useful -- you certainly got the attention of that Mexican restaurant out your way. :)

I need to go back to Amanda's comment, too. Amanda says this:

The emphasis in the bill appeared to me to be a definition of journalism, hardly mischief.

So help me understand something, Amanda -- why does the government (a) need to define what journalism is and (b) who says they have any right to do any such thing? I think you can make a very good argument that ANY attempt by the government to regulate and/or license speech runs afoul of the 1st Amendment, to say nothing of the 10th.

I can understand why "failing news publications" (damned straight, Gino!) would want the government to step in and codify laws that would work to their advantage. But why should any of us favor it?

Anonymous said...

Let's call this what it is: Censorship

Gino said...

mark: and my blog isn't bleeding red ink!