Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Kiss the strength of the shield

Congress is currently kicking the tires on a shield law for journalists that offers a level of protection from prosecution at a federal level--something that's been absent until now. That it's going to be dead in the water due to a promised Bush veto makes a lot of the arguments for and against it moot (two second summation: it started decent and got watered down), but in the process of crafting the law, congress is defining what it means to be a journalist, a pracice that seems both feudal and incredibly dangerous. Why? Well let's take a look:
COVERED PERSON -- The term "covered person" means a person who regularly gathers, prepares, collects, photographs, records, writes, edits, reports, or publishes news or information that concerns local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest for dissemination to the public...

OK, so far so good. They've got the bases covered more or less, and it's nice to see publishers in there too. But...

...for a substantial portion of the person's livelihood...


...or for substantial financial gain

Double yikes.

Tying journalism with the pay a person may get from their work seems like a tin-eared way of defining journalism at any level, let alone at the level of a federal shield law. Of course it's defined to cut out as many bloggers as possible, but the definition currently put forth also automatically cuts out protection of first-person narratives from whistleblowers, soldiers in the field, and other ground-level, primary-source (thus naturally amateur) material. And that's just skimming the surface! It cuts out most community newspapers and indie pubs who don't pay worth shit, any kind of volunteer-run publication, even freelancers who work other jobs (even if that other job is teaching about journalism). In other words, it cuts out many of the folks that help to create everything we know as journalism on a daily basis and it sets a legal precedent that could cause trouble for years to come.