J-School: Educating Independent Journalists

“If tools could make anyone who picked them up an expert, they’d be valuable indeed.” Plato, The Republic

Josh Wolf Case Adds New Twist to “Blogger as Journalist” Debate

Posted by chanders on August 21, 2006

I’d been passively following the Josh Wolf case over in San Francisco, largely through the excellent coverage provided by Indybay (did you know, as an aside, that Indybay was ranked #328 on technorati?? Thats pretty amazing for an IMC site. Indymedia.org is only ranked #750, and NYC IMC, the site I spend most of my time on, is ranked #8016). Wolf, for those who don’t know, is an independent videographer who shot some pretty gripping footage of an anti-G8 protest in San Francisco in 2005. The Federal Government, a la Judith Miller, a la, Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, is trying, through the grand jury process, to get Wolf to turn over unedited footage of alleged crimes that were committed during the protest.

I didn’t realize, though, until Dan Gilmor pointed it out, that there’s a potentially new twist to the Wolf case: that the Feds are basically trying to do an  end-run around the California shield law, under which Wolf would be protected as a journalist, by claiming that the case is a federal one because federal funding was used to pay for the police car damaged in the protest. As Gilmor notes, this would create a huge hole in most state shield laws. California has one of the better state shield laws in the country, and is something of a model for citizen journalists looking for legal protection.

This isn’t the only interesting legal development in blog-land that Gilmor has noted recently. The Berkman Center and the Center for Citizen Media are funding a new initiative to "provide information, education, resources and tools to help address the challenges faced by citizen journalists."

And in another interesting  legal development for indy-media types, American Apparel has just sent a really nasty letter to Clamor Magazine, accusing them of "inaccuracies and accusing Clamor of shoddy and amateur journalism." An AA spokeswoman demanded, “if the article is not immediately removed online, along with a retraction and an [sic] public apology posted online and published appropriately, we will be forced to seek legal action in light of such gross, blatant, negligent and irresponsible journalism.” While the Clamor Magazine situation is somewhat different than these other cases, it does illustrate the hyper-litigious atmosphere currently dominating the journalism world. 

How these legal issues work themselves out is the other side to the knowledge and expertise issues I’ve been harping on recently. Professional power primarily stems  from two sources: the claim of jurisdiction over abstract knowledge and the autonomy to realize that knowledge in work. While expertise is developed via grad schools and networks, autonomy is hashed out in the political and legal arena. Once again we see an example of the fact that, while bloggers versus journalists may be over, there are powerful institutions that haven’t gotten the memo.

Here’s some interesting background information on an earlier legal case I was involved with in NYC in 2004 and 2005.

Now playing: "Party Hard," by Pulp.

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