News next: a journalism teacher's diary

February 28, 2010

Don’t shoot: journalist

Filed under: None — Bernard L. Stein @ 10:54 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and the Knight Citizens News Network have collaborated on a terrific guide to avoiding the pitfalls of publication. I urge you to take a look.

It has always been dangerous to tell the world what you think or what you know. Just ask Galileo or Thomas More. But if publishing your thoughts and findings has always been risky, in the world created by the internet, where anyone has access to an audience, it has become riskier still, and on a far larger scale.

Whether you’re posting to the blog for this class or your Facebook page, you’re publishing. You need to be aware of the rules and the risks that come with gathering information and disseminating it.

Writing a profile of a woman who says her ex abused her? Can you take her word for it, and put her claim in your story?

If you publish something that is false and damaging, that’s libel, and the person you wronged can haul you into court and recover money damages.

Because robust debate is so essential to a democracy, you’re allowed to make mistakes when you write about public officials and public figures, so long as the assertions that cast them in a bad light were published in good faith. But ordinary people (like that ex-husband) just have to show that you were wrong and they suffered because of your mistake.

Want to take a picture? What if someone objects to where you’re pointing your camera? A year ago, a transit cop hauled a man away in handcuffs for taking a picture of a subway train in the mistaken belief that it’s against the law to photograph in a subway station.

Here’s a guide to the rights of photographers that can be printed out and carried along when you’re out shooting. But you need to exercise common sense, as well. There may be times when it makes sense to stand up for your rights and vindicate them in court after a night in the cooler, but there are other times to say “Yes, officer,” and move on.

What promises can you make to entice someone to talk to you? What promises can you break?

Can you tape a telephone interview without telling the person you’re interviewing?

When you write for a blog, are you a journalist? That’s an unsettled question, with large implications for the protections you may me afforded under shield laws. For example, in October, Illinois prosecutors struck back at students at Northwestern University’s journalism school whose reporting had freed 11 wrongfully-convicted prisoners from death row, issuing subpoenas for their notes, their transcripts and their e-mail messages on the theory that they were not protected by shield laws because they were investigators, not journalists.

The World Wide Web has made it possible for millions of people to reach an audience with their words and images. The opportunities are boundless. Use them. But stay safe.

1 Comment »

  1. Good guide for photographers on when to shoot in this story!

    Comment by Judy Herron — March 18, 2012 @ 10:45 am | Reply

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