Note: Watch for an insider account of the JMU Breeze case by James Madison faculty Mike Grundmann, editor of the Newspaper Division’s Leadtime newsletter. The summer edition will be on our website later this month.
Rockingham County, Va., Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst says her run-in with student journalists at James Madison University this spring “enhanced my understanding and re-enforced the role of a free press in our democracy.”
The experience also cost the state $10,000 — part of the attorney’s fees accrued after Garst’s attempt to seize hundreds of images student photographers shot during an off-campus party-turned-riot in April.
The Student Press Law Center and the Society of Professional Journalists issued statements in support of the paper, citing the 1980 Privacy Protection Act.
After lengthy negotiations, Garst and the JMU Breeze announced this week that they have reached an agreement under which the state will pay the paper’s legal fees, and the paper will turn over 20 unpublished photos — out more than 900 that Garst and police originally attempted to seize.
Garst said that in the future she will seek a subpoena, not a simple search warrant, if she feels a need to go after information or documents from any news organization, including the JMU Breeze.
“As a prosecutor, officer of the court, and elected official of the community I recognize the concerns of the Breeze and its staff, as well as other media sources, for the protection of the Constitution and First Amendment. I express my regret for the fear and concern that I caused the Breeze and its staff,” she said, in a two-page, single-spaced statement on the case.
Thanks to the Waynesboro News-Virginian for not only publishing a story on the incident, but including the full statements by Garth and the student newspaper’s editor, along with their 19 page settlement agreement:
News-Virginian: State to pay legal fees for student newspaper
• Statement by Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst (PDF)
• Photo seizure settlement (PDF, 19 pages)
Roanoke Times: Prosecutor, JMU newspaper reach deal over riot photos
US News & World Report: James Madison Student Newspaper and Attorney Reach Deal
From the indispensable Nieman Journalism Lab:
A Harvard-based conference on online journalism and the law will also help inaugurate a new legal service ?called Online Media Legal Network (OMLN). The one-day symposium occurs on Friday April 9 at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Mass..
The OMLN says it aims to connect “qualifying online journalism ventures and digital media creators with lawyers willing to provide legal services on a pro bono or reduced-fee basis.”
Sounds a bit like what state bar associations used to do for small community newspapers and struggling journalism grad students. My only slight concern comes from this sentence from the conference website: “[The OMLN] supports promising ventures and innovative thinkers in online and digital media by providing access to legal help that would otherwise be unavailable.” What will be deemed worthy of aid?
A Web developer has created a clever anonymous source tracker. It looks for various phrases (e.g., “a source close to” or “a person familiar with”) and posts the offending passage. It also tallies the number of unnamed sourcing in various news outlets. The No. 1 offender? BusinessWeek. That outlet has used unnamed sourcing 100 times in the past few days — fully three times more than the next offender, Reuters, with 31 instances. The numbers update continuously, so it will be interesting to watch them over time. Impressive bit of software coding.
After BusinessWeek and Reuters, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Associated Press, and the Washington Post led the industry. What surprised me somewhat was the comparatively low ranking of several high-profile organizations, including the Politico.com. The site is run by one Mark Schaver, by day an assistant metro editor at the Louisville Courier-Journal.
I asked Schaver what his motivation for the site was, and he wrote back this email:
I didn’t start out with any special fascination with anonymous sources. I was just looking for a way to exercise my Web development skills and thought this would be an interesting subject to shed some light on. It really is a very simple app. It just leverages Google News and Google Reader to do the searching and parses and displays the results.
Where I work (The Courier-Journal) we aren’t allowed to use anonymous sources except under extremely limited circumstances. I’d say what I find is surprising is how often they’re used and how often they’re used in situations where it’s more a convenience than a necessity.
In just the last 10 days, Schaver’s little app has found (allowing for a few duplicates and false matches) almost 2,000 examples of anonymous sourcing. That’s a lot of news from the great unknown.
If this is indeed what the Daily Kos claims it is, this would be huge: bloggers conducting journalism — and speaking strictly personally, and not for AEJMC, I call such writers “journalists” — could stand to lose key legal protections against compelled disclosure.
In proposing a new amendment to developing federal legislation which limits the scope of media shield laws, two senators have included wording for what constitutes — and by implication, what does not constitute — a “journalist,” reports the Daily Kos. The amendment, authored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Dick Durbin, essentially says that if you don’t work as a salaried employee or contractor of a media enterprise, you’re something less than a journalist, at least when it comes to enjoying the privilege of shield laws.
Not surprisingly, both lefty and conservative bloggers are outraged. It seems unlikely, however, that the amendment will survive.
The language of the bill, as first reported by the blog Kos — my bolding, for there is much irony since the mainstream media missed this story – will surely strike some journalism educators as worryingly old-fashioned and narrow in its vision of journalism:
AMENDMENT NO.__ Calendar No.__
Purpose: To appropriately limit the protection from compelled disclosure.
IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES—111th Cong., 1st Sess.
To maintain the free flow of information to the public by providing conditions for the federally compelled disclo-sure of information by certain persons connected with the news media.
Referred to the Committee on ___ and ordered to be printed Ordered to lie on the table and to be printed
AMENDMENTS intended to be proposed by Mrs. F EINSTEIN (for herself and Mr. D URBIN )
In section 10(2)(A), strike clause (iii) and insert the following:
(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
(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;
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.
Problem is, so far, I can’t find the amended bill anywhere. Perhaps it’s already been quashed by an outcry from the “netroots.” I’ll report back when I learn more.
Here’s the amendment:
The chief executive of the Associated Press, Tom Curley, is signaling — or bluffing about, depending on whom you believe — a harder line against unauthorized use of AP-produced content. A new AP news registration and tracking system called AP3P (for “Protect, Point, and Pay”), he says, will attempt to manage third-party use of AP content:
Participation in the News Registry would discourage unauthorized exploitation of news content by third parties and promote uses that benefit participating news publishers. Implementation of digital protocols that convey rules pertaining to access and use of published news content would enable publishers to pursue individual and collective licensing opportunities.
But not everyone’s buying what Curley’s selling. Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch essentially accuses the (sometimes controversial) head of the ailing wire service of positioning his company for online right negotiations:
What’s really behind all the bluster is that the AP is in the midst of renegotiating a new licensing deal with Google, and is using vague public threats to try to get more money out of them. It’s really kind of sad. The AP is just so desperate for cash as its revenues begin to fade that it doesn’t know whether to brandish a stick or a carrot. Just the day before, Curley put out a trial balloon to see if search engines like Google would be willing to pay extra to get news delivered 20 to 30 minutes faster.
What do you think?