APO resource visit counts have been improved. For more information, see our Policies & Guidelines

Blog post

‘Digital dangers’ and online obstacles: Legal tips for journalists

17 Jan 2017

It has always been risky for journalists to offend the powerful, rich and litigious. But until the digital age, American newspapers generally held their own: They rigorously checked facts and employed legal muscle to beat back bullies. 

Today they are unprepared to fight, argues a 2016 paper by lawyer and Fortune staff writer Jeff John Roberts. As newspaper budgets have shrunk and some media outlets have moved to clickbait-based business models, in many cases the tenured editors who served as wise counselors and fact-checkers have been sacked. Mistakes are thus more likely.

“More journalists are publishing at a speed and in a fashion that is likely to invite legal trouble. These include reporters who perform ‘churnalism’ in the form of five or more superficial stories a day, or ‘hot takes’ that involve a writer with scant knowledge of a topic publishing a hasty piece of opinion or analysis,” explains Roberts in the paper, “Scribes Without Safety Nets: Teaching Law to Journalists in the Digital Era.”

Journalists, moreover, are unprepared for what Roberts calls “digital dangers.” They are not receiving training for a digital-first world at American journalism schools, Roberts contends in the paper, which he wrote as a Knight-Bagehot fellow at Columbia University: “The result is that it is easier today for news subjects to browbeat reporters with legal threats. A lack of legal resources can also produce a chilling effect in which news outlets steer away from the sort of reporting that could trigger a lawsuit in the first place.”

Indeed, these days there is no guarantee your publication will defend you against a deep-pocketed pugilist. Some freelancer contracts even include indemnity clauses, which place all liability on the writer.

Continued via link.

Publication Details
Published year only: 
Subject Areas
Geographic Coverage