Lugar On Bloggers

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Web loggers will probably not be covered by a proposed federal shield law, says Sen. Richard Lugar (R.-Ind.). Appearing at a conference of the Inter American Press Association, the beetle-browed, Chiclet-toothed "successful combination of gentlemanly civility, high intellect, intrinsic integrity and tough discipline" noted that the final version of his Free Flow of Information Act will probably define journalism more restrictively:

As to who is a reporter, this will be a subject of debate as this bill goes farther along… Are bloggers journalists or some of the commercial businesses that you here would probably not consider real journalists? Probably not, but how do you determine who will be included in this bill?

Full story.

In its current form, the FFOIA defines a covered person as anybody who "publishes a newspaper, book, magazine, or other periodical in print or electronic form." Declan McCullagh has more about these definitions:

Exact wording matters. Last year, U.S. District Judge C. Lynwood Smith ruled that Alabama's shield law doesn't protect Sports Illustrated because the statute mentions only newspapers and broadcasters. Trying to squeeze a magazine into that definition, Smith wrote, "strains the commonly understood meanings of those words."

Then there are other legal twists such as the California Constitution, which was raised by Apple's lawsuits. It protects anyone currently or previously employed by "a newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication, or by a press association or wire service." (Emphasis added.) That shields sites like News.com, Salon.com, and Slate.com–typically staffed by ex-newspaper reporters–but probably doesn't help bloggers or the Apple defendants.

A college student and unconventional speller supports licensing of journalists. Matt Welch proposes a less restrictive shield. And the most important press freedom of all: the right of the paparazzi to cause celebrity car accidents.

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  1. From said colleg student’s Weblog:

    “But, I am worried that with the onslaught of weblogs and internet news, many readers and listeners will get confused and think what they?re reading and watching is actually news. I have nothing against web loggers, even though they are a threat to my future career. But, all of this leads me to question the professionalism of journalism […] The news is getting out-of-hand. The public is being onslaught with an enormous amount of information due to our increasing rush of technology and it has to be hard for them to differentiate between real news and opinions being costumed as news. This is why we need to start seriously considering licensing journalists. It may be the only real hope for the future of journalists. With licenses, we can hold on to whatever ethical and moral characteristics we have left in the news business. There will be no more ?parading reporters? and no more ?video news releases.”

    Ah, yes. THAT would fix everything! Just let the government decide who is a “journalist” and who is just another punk with a blogger account and too much time on their hands. Jesus, yes, oh, look at us, this poor, helpless populace…unable to differentiate between the AP and a kittyblogger. Help us! Please! License “journalists”, and save our future!

    Apparently, she fails to see the inherent problem in giving control to the GOVERNMENT over deciding who is and isn’t a journalist. Does she not think that corruption will ensue? Does she doubt that the government would withhold or revoke the licenses of journalists who say “the wrong thing”?

  2. Lugar on Bloggers. Uh, it sounds like a bunch of mucus, or something.

  3. This is why we need to start seriously considering licensing journalists. It may be the only real hope for the future of journalists. With licenses, we can hold on to whatever ethical and moral characteristics we have left in the news business.

    Jeez, Tim, you really know how to raise my blood pressure first thing on a Tuesaday morning.

  4. Sounds like a good one to ask Miers about. There would seem to be some 1st Amendment issues lurking here, and we need to make sure that SCOTUS justices are clued in enough to understand that.

  5. Consumers do just fine when it comes to distinguishing real news from blogs. The trick is that they do not want real news.

  6. Let the governments license journalists the same agency that licenses K-12 teachers and college professors of journalism? How’s that working out for the Nation? Oh!…wait…the government doesn’t license college professors of journalism! How’s that working out for the Nation?

  7. A semi-serious question: Are there any professions left that one doesn’t need a license for?

  8. “A semi-serious question: Are there any professions left that one doesn’t need a license for?”

    HR consultant.

  9. A semi-serious question: Are there any professions left that one doesn’t need a license for?

    Needing a license is what makes it a profession, as opposed to merely working for a living like the rest of us.

  10. A semi-serious question: Are there any professions left that one doesn’t need a license for?

    The oldest one?

    /rimshot (heh)

  11. What about us freaks who keep blogs AND write professionally in more “traditional” publications? Can we get dual citizenship?

    I do agree with this student on one point: I despite the fact that blogs constantly dress emotion and opinion up as actual facts and news. They should be held to a stricter code and allowed only to present cold, hard facts as cold, hard facts — you know, like Fox News and CNN.

  12. I have this fantasy of a country, where freedom of speech and of the press, are inalienable rights, guaranteed by the government to all citizens. I call the county ‘Freeland’.

    Barkeep! [sigh]

  13. At my school advertising was in the journalism department. So even though I write sugar water ads for a living, my degree says I earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism. Does that mean that any blog I might start would be protected because I have a slip of paper that says I’m a trained journalist?

    By the way, the fact that I have a degree in journalism is not something I’m proud of. If my mother asks please tell her I’m a porn booth mopper.

  14. Gee, I can think of a few PACs that might have something to say about this. Corporate blogs are used for everything from announcing births to sparking viral promotion and marketing “under the radar.” This reminds me of the Hollywood Propmasters’ Union complaining that all product placement should fall under thier authority, while the companies demanded that only they could place thier product with the precision and expertise needed to maintain the product image.

    I for one could live without journalistic licenses, provided all journalists submit to a competency test.

  15. Why not have the shield law cover everyone?

    Instead of applying it to journalists, let’s have it apply only in a specific situation. Let’s have a law that in a criminal case no one can be compelled to testify to the contents of a private conversation.

    It sounds at first like it would allow a lot of criminals to go free, but I don’t think so. After all, how often are there criminal cases where (1) a witness has to disclose what someone else said, (2) it was a private conversation, (3) it’s admissible, (4) the witness doesn’t want to testify, (5) but does so anyway (instead of refusing or lying), (6) out of concern for a contempt charge (rather than as part of a deal on another charge). My guess is that not many cases would collapse because of an inability to compel testimony in this one special case.

    Note that as a practical matter, you already have the ability to avoid testifying under these circumstances. After all, if you simply pretend the conversation never took place, who will ever know that it did?

    It is only if you commit an act of journalism—tell somebody the story—that the authorities can find out that you know something. If journalists kept everything secret, they wouldn’t need a shield law. The shield is required so they can keep part of the story secret: The name of their source. If they could be forced to reveal sources, they wouldn’t have sources.

    Giving bloggers (and everyone else) a shield wouldn’t allow criminals to keep secrets. They can already do that. A shield would make it easier for us to discuss things that would otherwise be dark secrets.

  16. Journalist comes from the same root as diurnal, daily. A journalist is one who writes daily, or writes on the day.

    Common usage is that he also does it for a living.

    The rest of us are diarists, which comes from the same root but doesn’t pay.

    Probably the “or has been employed” attempts to get at the money aspect.

    My own test would be how much unreported income you have from it.

    The money aspect is handy because you can take a cut when you license them. Government likes to regulate money flows.

  17. Since it seems I can?t respond to this woman?s blog on the original site, I?ll post it here:

    I believe your instructors failed to teach you little concept that American journalists stake their entire profession upon: The First Amendment. In case you haven?t heard of it, it?s a simple sentence that goes like this:
    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
    It?s that ?congress shall make no law? abridging the freedom of speech, of the press?? part that runs afoul of your licensing scheme. It is an affront to the very concept of press freedom that is a large part of the broader liberty that we all share. If you damage free speech, you eventually will ruin all other freedoms.

    Who is the government to decide who is worthy to report upon the news or contribute to the public discourse? With all their complaining about ?media bias,? do you think that conservatives won?t use licensing as a means to censor ?liberal? journalists by yanking their hypothetical license? How about the other way around; a left-leaning regime putting the screws to reporters they find a nuisance? Would you leave freedom of the press to the ravages of whatever political party is in power at the time?

    You don?t like the fact that all these non-journalists are blogging you out of a future paycheck with information that you don?t consider news, right? TOUGH! Evolution applies to industry as much as it does to biology, if you can?t adapt to change, you become extinct. The Internet has opened up the press to the common man, allowing them to get their ideas and views out into the marketplace. Do they always get it right? No. Are they biased? All people are biased. It?s up to the average consumer to determine truth and bias for themselves. I?m sorry you think the great unwashed are far too stupid to make that decision without a member of the anointed press corps holding our hands first, but freedom is far more important bullshit that is ?journalistic integrity.?

    The field of journalism reached the height of elitist arrogance when it declared itself a ?profession? akin to doctors and lawyers. Face it, a mentally handicapped monkey can write the news. You can teach the essentials of reporting in a six-month-long tech school course rather than a 4-plus year degree program. However, these days, you need nothing short of an advanced degree in Journalism to find work as a humble stringer. Licensing would make an already difficult to enter ?profession? even more inaccessible.

    Pull your head out! Reporters are not God?s gift to American democracy. Journalism is just a job like accounting, plumbing, customer service, and auto maintenance. Anyone who has the skill to write well could?and should?be able to contribute to the media without getting a mother-may-I from the State. That?s what is important.

  18. Edit: “…but freedom is far more important than the bullshit that is ?journalistic integrity”

    And to think, in my original draft I was going to point out her failure to copy edit her own blog.

  19. “Some countries are seriously considering it. Brazil and Indonesia are looking into licensing their journalists.”

    We should now take policy tips from Indonesia? Either this is sarcasm or sarcasm is dead. This article is sarcasm right?

    At least the first comment in reply is wise (no sarcasm intended).

    Oh and I got to love this line: “The public is being onslaught with an enormous amount of information due to our increasing rush of technology and it has to be hard for them to differentiate between real news and opinions being costumed as news.”

    Actualy, it’s more fact and misinformation that’s hard to distinguish. It often is. And people want to be spoon fed “truth”. The alternative … thinking for yourself … my goodness! It’s not taught many places afterall, certainly not in schools, where you get your daily dosage of “truth” from textbooks. And it’s just not convenient! People want to be spoon fed truth, in the same way they can buy precut fruit, unfortunately the price is higher. Ah for that perfect day, when all truth can be fed from on high, from scientific experts (whom I do respect mind you, they have far more training than the average person, but they do figure into this paradigm), and liscensed journalists.

  20. A semi-serious question: Are there any professions left that one doesn’t need a license for?

    Graphic design.

  21. Why not have the shield law cover everyone?

    You mean, like a Constitutional right? How would that go? “Congress shall make no law . . . .” perhaps?

    Journalist comes from the same root as diurnal, daily. A journalist is one who writes daily, or writes on the day.

    Common usage is that he also does it for a living.

    I missed the part where Constitutional rights are contingent on being paid for it.

  22. As an anarchist, I’m wondering if a decision on whether a witness could be ordered to testify could be a separate decision, like sentencing is separate from innocence vs. guilt.
    That would be a way around passing more laws?

  23. I like Windypundit’s idea! Anyone else? To force someone to testify about a private conversation doesn’t seem very different to me from forcing someone to testify against himself. And while I have no experience in law, I can well see his point that it’s not likely to have much dire practical effects. I’m sure someone must think this is bullshit. Let’s hear why we’re wrong!

  24. Ruthless, do you filter ALL your thoughts through your self-identification as an anarchist?

    [I can’t imagine no one’s asked you that before, so apologies for any redundancy.]

  25. fyodor,
    Anarchy is to me as homosexuality is to Herrick.
    I’m out!

  26. The public is being onslaught with an enormous amount of information …

    I wondered whether the right form would be onslaughtered but it looks like the most plausible (but still nonexistent) option is onslain – both would be decent names for a metal band.

  27. pedant,

    Onslaught was a band in the 80’s, “working to forge an ultra-aggressive, speedy metal sound that was becoming more and more popular in the days of early Slayer and Metallica.” Per allmusic.com. 🙂

  28. I wondered whether the right form would be onslaughtered

    The public is being slaught upon? With Lugar’s bloggers?

  29. “blogs constantly dress emotion and opinion up as actual facts and news”

    In that they don’t differ much from the newspapers that were typical at the time the First Amendment was written. Newspapers were partisan and were expected to be so — otherwise, who would bother to read them? This notion of journalistic integrity as objectivity, useful though it may be, is comparatively recent. Even the best of American newspapers in 1780 were a lot like blogs today, actually — they reprinted at will from other newspapers, printed hearsay, and freely mixed fact and opinion.

    Besides, let’s not start kidding ourselves that news reporters today are objective. Subjectivity enters into matters like whom you interview and what questions you ask and how you frame them, not just in whether you openly express your personal opinion in the story you write. In most cases I’d rather read the journalist’s opinion straight up than have to wade through the more subtle bias of bad reporting.

  30. This notion of journalistic integrity as objectivity, useful though it may be

    Glad you’re not throwing out the baby with the bathwater! I too think there’s value to the claim and attempt to be objective, but I heartily agree that it’s nonsense to think anyone can draw a line between the two or that a journalistic license could show who falls on which side of that line.

  31. Subjectivity enters into matters like whom you interview and what questions you ask and how you frame them

    Exactly. Take, for example, Fox News Channel and NPR. Give them the exact same story, and see which “experts” and “pundits” each organization interviews and/or quotes for the story. See how they frame the questions. See how they present the issue, and in what context. One can safely assume that that single issue would come across in two very different ways.

    Yet, presumably, in this wonderful world of government-issued journalism licenses, both of those organizations would easily obtain said license. FNC is the most watched cable news channel, yet, I once heard a commentator, E.D. Hill, exclaim, “if you oppose the war in Iraq, then you support the rape and oppression of women”. The last thing journalist licenses would do is preserve some sort of non-existent “integrity”.

  32. Loogers bloogers will not be easily flicked.

  33. Hold on here just a minute people. First, let me say that let’s separate the commentary part of TV and print media from the journalism. Just like papers have a Opinions section, TV channels have opinion shows. These people may bring up newsworthy items, but they are reporting secondarily, they are commenting on them primariliy. These same TV channels have actual newscasts as well. Do they have biases? Of course. It’s impossible to filter out all biases. Just like the front page headline on the Times will probably be different on the Post.

    Secondly, who says the government needs to license journalists? What if I started handing out certificates saying that the people I give these to are journalists, and that you can trust them to give you factual reporting with as little bias as possible. If they stop doing this, I can take away their license. Now, let’s say Bob starts doing the same thing I’m doing. Journalists can be given the stamp of approval by various licensing boards. Could Cindy still write and produce journalism without one of these licenses? Sure, no one’s taking away her free speech. But the best way to market herself would be to get licensed by someone. As long as there isn’t just one licensing board, she won’t get discriminated against because of a personally belief, etc.

    Any libertarians have a problem with this scenario?

  34. Yogi: typically there’s a monopoly on licensing or else no one takes it particularly seriously, but if we’re happy with open licensing and no one need license the licensers, I will be happy to send anyone who presents proper evidence of journalistic qualifications (such as having once commented on this blog) an Official Journalist Certificate, for only $9.95.

    That is, if mediageek will license me as a graphic designer.

  35. Yogi, it would be great if there were a competitive market in licenses of all kinds (law, medicine, you name it). Then it would technically be “accreditation” or a “credential”, but sure, why not.

    The problem is, the tools talking about licensing journalists are, of course, talking about state licenses.

  36. The scheme for private, competing bodies of “licensers” could work. Part of the value would be tied to the reputation of the licensing bodies, of course. It would be akin to “approved by Underwriter’s Laboratories” or “rated a ‘Best Buy’ by Consumer Reports” (both private organizations). It would earn its revenue either by charging people to evaluate and rate/license them, or by charging everyone for access to the ratings/evaluations.

    “Licensed by ‘Not David'” wouldn’t be worth much, unless and until the Not David organization had proved itself as a reputable, trustworthy and competent organization.

    Of course, you could always bribe a private organization to give you an unearned approval rating. And the two answers to that are:

    1) Yeah, like you could never bribe a government official.

    2) A private organization with competitors would stand to lose a lot more by accepting a bribe, because if it is ever caught, its reputation for being trustworthy and competent would be damaged — in a voluntary and competitive marketplace, it would lose everything it has to “sell.”

  37. Yeah, there are monopoly concerns, but I think they are minor as long as people demand excellent, non-biased reporting. If the license monopoly becomes corrupt, unreliable, etc, it will lose its effectiveness, just like Consumer Reports would lose its market share if it consistently ranked Geo Metros above BMWs. The great thing (or bad thing) is that we get what we demand. Right now, the public is demanding sensational, check-out counter journalism.

  38. “Licensed by ‘Not David'” wouldn’t be worth much, unless and until the Not David organization had proved itself as a reputable, trustworthy and competent organization.

    Obviously. That’s why I’m only charging $9.95. You want reputable, you’re going to pay for it.

  39. “Licensed by Yogi” will only cost you $7.95! If you can right good, your in!

  40. Also, a side benefit of private licensing, is that you’ll probably see different licensing organizations being approved by or if not entirely run by the political parties or PACs. So if you see the journalists has a license from one, but not the other, there’s a good bet the journalism is slightly slanted. A reporter that can successfully be licensed by both sides would be highly desireable by major publications.

  41. I think some criminal defendants might be harmed if people had a privilege to refuse to testify about the contents of private conversations.

    Imagine the following: A is being charged with a crime. A believes C committed the crime, because B told A that B and C had been talking and C admitted the crime to B.

    A cannot testify to what B told him – it’s multiple hearsay, and not permissible under any exceptions to the hearsay rule. It would be in A’s interest to have B testify, but if B has a privilege to refuse, A is unable to present crucial evidence in his defense.

    Adopting such a rule would be a very bad thing.

    Nick

  42. Nick,

    What’s to keep B from lying in the current system? Not much. Except I guess the threat of perjury if B told several people. Seems like an exceptional situation. Plus, if C feels like there’s less reason not to tell the B’s of the world, there’ll be more B’s and more likely that one of them will willingly testify, which would be more compelling than compulsory testimony. Sure, that may be exceptional as well, but no more so than your scenario. Let freedom ring!

    Yogi,

    Private licensing is fine, but the question before us is who gets journalistic privelege. If government recognizes private licensing for such purpose, it’s no longer private.

  43. Is it all about writing in journals ?Can we come out of a set-presentation of the given news? If the idea of cherishing news doesn’t conform to this form of presentation, then a blog which gives news and reviews in a four to six line script should not be derided

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