Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Washington is acting bizarrely. Has anyone noticed? 

The media landscape is changing rapidly, so rapidly in fact that Newsweek columnist Daniel Lyons says a piece of media law being debated in the US Congress, The Newspaper Revitalization Act 2009, is "like introducing legislation to save horse-drawn carriages, or steam engines, or black-and-white TV".

The act would enable media companies to enjoy tax breaks under the US tax code, as I wrote about a couple of days ago. In a word, it would help media producers to survive a perfect storm of economic events, which seem likely to lead to the demise of many of them.

It is so likely, in fact, that the president has said that he has considered bailing out newspapers in the same way that he has done for banks and auto makers.

But in the same place, at the same time, lawmakers have passed legislation for sheilding journalists' sources that gives protections to regular employees of media firms in preference to ordinary bloggers or citizen journalists.

Source protection is sacred ground for journalists, some of whom have gone to jail in this country rather than reveal their informants. A journalist asked to reveal a source should hope that they either have a good lawyer or that they're employed by one of those struggling media companies.

The new laws do not recognise a journalist unless they are "working as a salaried employee of, or independent contractor for, an entity ... that disseminates information by print, broadcast, cable, satellite, mechanical, photographic, electronic, or other means" and that disseminates its information by means of a proprietary carriage service.

The carriage service must be either (a) "a newspaper, book, magazine, or other periodical", (b) "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", (c) "a programming service", or (d) "a news agency or wire service".

In other words, an ordinary citizen who operates a blog that is run on a generic service, such as Blogger, would not be protected by the law.

In other words I would not be protected as a blogger.

Even if I were writing a story that I still had to pitch to a newspaper, I would not be covered as I would not be an "independent contractor".

In other words, the law protects people working in an industry under severe threat, many of whom have lost - and will lose - their jobs and as a result may become freelanceers writing stories that they will pitch to newspapers, magazines or news or magazine websites.

I'm assuming that handling a commissioned piece would enable a journalist to consider themselves covered as they would, in that case, be legally an "independent contractor".

1 comment:

David - Media Helping Media said...

Good piece, Matt, raising important issues.