Newspapers, blogs converge and conflict

To a considerable extent blogs have fed off mainstream media, repeating and commenting, supplementing and contradicting, but more often than not using some news article as their starting point. Now two developments, noticed by contributors to this blog, show how professional and citizen media groups are trying to coexist.

Der Cuz noticed recently that bloggers who want to develop their own stories and do their own reporting are turning to workshops organized by the Society for Professional Journalists. An Associated Press article carried by Wired News says:

About a dozen would-be reporters navigated the basics of journalism at a recent training offered by the Society of Professional Journalists in Chicago. The group plans similar seminars this month in Greensboro, N.C., and Los Angeles.

One lesson taught at such workshops has been how to avoid defamation — saying untruthful things that would injure an ordinary person’s reputation (public figures have to take more abuse under the law). The article quotes Robert Cox president of the Media Bloggers Association who says:

more than 100 judgments valued at $17 million have been handed down against bloggers over the last three years – about 60 percent for defamation, 25 percent for copyright infringement and 10 percent involving privacy.

In a related item, Charlotte (FedsHallofShame) Yee noticed a New York Times story about the Associated Press meeting with the Media Bloggers Association to discuss the concept of fair use. I hope I get this right because as a card-carrying journalist I should know that there is a legal threshold for how many words one can cite of a copyrighted work, without specific permission. I think the word count is in the 75 to 125 word range. Excerpts must be clearly identified (as by the indentations used above). It is legal to carry such an identified excerpt and link to the full article. But many bloggers extract and repost the entire text. That is neither fair use nor necessary, in my opinion, to make one’s point.

I notice that the Media Bloggers Association says it “will be opening up registration for membership starting in Summer 2008″ and offering a “media liability insurance product for bloggers as well as a new membership policy that requires all members to complete a 45 minute online training course.”

I am guessing here that Media Bloggers wants to credential and professionalize citizen media. I’ll look into that effort more as time permits. For now, bloggers worried about legal exposure to defamation suits should look into an umbrella insurance policy, as offered by standard insurers. These provide coverage against libel, which is a defamation that is published or broadcast. But I have no idea of the exclusions and will be eager to see if Media Bloggers can get a better deal.