The Legal Code

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Today, Bootcamp discussed the nuts and bolts of journalism–inverted pyramid and all. Professor Olmsted emphasized the importance of multiple-source interviews, stating the most important facts first, and clearing the air on “off the record.” Upon looking at a horrid sample article discussing a puke-in, I realized there are many ways to get the basics wrong. Your language, lack of proof for your claims, simple math, and relevance all need to be accounted for. If the professionals know the rules and still get it wrong, we aren’t safe either.

That particular lesson was one all too familar to practiced journalists, but it’s always good to remind yourself of the bread and butter. I found it interesting that we learned the legal aspects of journalism on the same day as the basic structure. In the evolving world of web content, it’s become more and more important to understand your rights. Did you know in some states, you CAN record someone without their knowledge, but in other states, it’s illegal? Did you know a TV station is responsible for what its interview subjects say, but a Web site isn’t responsible for user posts? Ever wonder how Juicy Campus got away with downright libel while the New York Times would never be able to pull that off? It’s the legal code.DSCN2196

Barbara Wall is the vice president/senior legal counsel and associate general counsel, for Gannett Company, Inc. She discussed intellectual property, web vs broadcast law, and the basics of libel law. Even if you decide to cut and paste a photo or story to your site, you are not safe from libel if the mother site gets sued.

She said the “tale-bearer is just as bad as the tale-maker.”

The Communication Decency Act, Section 230, she said, freed Web sites from blame if users post unfavorable comments on their pages. Fair Use law allows us to use some copyrighted material without obtaining permission. You can learn more about avoiding legal trouble by visiting Knight Citizen News Network.

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