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December 2, 2009

What you do, versus who you are
Posted by Patrick at 09:15 PM * 40 comments

Via Kos: Under pressure from big media operations interested in protecting their reporters, the Senate is considering a federal shield law. The poison in the deal is that certain Democrats, including (predictably) Dianne Feinstein and (disappointingly) Dick Durbin, are trying to ensure that the legislation covers only the salaried employees or contractors of big media. If you work for the New York Times or Rupert Murdoch, there will be limits to what can be required of you under oath, but if you commit journalism for Hullabaloo, or Unqualified Offerings, or Making Light, well, sucks to be you.

Interestingly, so far, the pushback to this has come from Senators Chuck Schumer…and Arlen Specter, both of whom are backing legislative language that would clearly cover “citizen journalists” of all sorts. As some of us can testify, for instance those of us who demonstrated outside his Park Slope apartment building on the eve of his vote in favor of the Iraq war, Schumer is hardly a solid ally of all things virtuous—but he was a very effective chair of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee for a couple of cycles, and in that capacity he apparently developed a genuine appreciation for the potential power of pissed-off liberal blogs. Arlen Specter is, of course, a far more fascinatingly tortured figure. My belief at this point is that, for the good of the Republic, Specter should be—like a political version of Schrödinger’s cat—permanently suspended in a condition of being on the verge of being primaried from the Left. If we can just keep it up a little longer, I expect Specter to come out in favor of not only single-payer and card-check, but also a $10/gallon gasoline tax, mandatory gay marriage, and the nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy by a syndic of workers’ soviets.

Anyway, the writhings of Senator Specter aside, Kos has a point. The distinction between the Feinstein/Durbin approach and the Schumer/Specter approach is that one seeks to further institutionalize a self-defined professional elite, whereas the other seeks to protect a practice in which any citizen may engage. So much in politics rides on distinctions like that.

Comments on What you do, versus who you are:
#1 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2009, 09:49 PM:

Feinstein and Durbin are apparently unaware that the citizen journalist is, historically speaking, the rule rather than the exception.
(One of my great-grandfathers was a stringer for a local newspaper. I doubt that he was ever paid for his work, and he wrote a column for years.)

#2 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2009, 09:57 PM:

It is slightly harder to hold citizen journalists to task for their malfeasance in general. Not everyone in the blogosphere is intelligent or committed to the truth. I'd like to see there be a reason for piercing the equivalent of the corporate veil on all sides; if someone is being slandered, or presenting racist or religious drivel as if it's the truth, there should be some way to hold the publisher liable. But let's keep the rules uniform, please. And not pseudo-uniform -- we can prohibit everyone from sleeping under the bridge, but we know that won't affect the rich.

#3 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2009, 10:06 PM:

a $10/gallon gasoline tax, mandatory gay marriage, and the nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy by a syndic of workers’ soviets.

Is that mandating that all gay people have to get married, or mandating that all marriages are henceforth gay, irrespective of the gender of the participants? I'm partial to the later.

#4 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2009, 10:06 PM:

One solution would be to create a new media dinosaur (to mimic some of the functions of the old media dinosaurs), the sole purpose of which would be to bring all citizen journalists under its protective umbrella. The citizen journalists would be salaried at one penny per year (to keep administrative costs manageable); the organization would be funded by as many civil liberties groups as can be convinced of the necessity of such an organization.

Ta-da!

#5 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2009, 10:13 PM:

Tom Whitmore -It is slightly harder to hold citizen journalists to task for their malfeasance in general. Not everyone in the blogosphere is intelligent or committed to the truth.

And by implication, big media is more trustworthy?

if someone is being slandered, or presenting racist or religious drivel as if it's the truth, there should be some way to hold the publisher liable.

No there shouldn't for that last bit I emphasized in bold text. Not in the context of law in America. Here, you get to drivel away. If you, or any lawmaker proposes differently, you become my enemy.

#6 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2009, 10:15 PM:

Oh, and another benefit of joining that theoretical citizen journalist conglomerate could be a robust legal defense fund. I'd probably accept proof of donation to any of a number of civil rights charities and a URL as sufficient justification for membership in the conglomerate.

#7 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2009, 10:25 PM:

I have Dianne Feinstein's local office number next to my phone (no, I don't use speed dial, go away) and by now I suspect her office staff recognizes my voice. I've made a lot of calls to her office expressing my opinion and often, my disapproval, this year. Sometimes they forget to ask my ZIP code, which makes me think she doesn't give a frap what my opinion is. I call anyway.

#8 ::: Rob T. ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2009, 10:33 PM:

Josh Jasper @#3:

or mandating that all marriages are henceforth gay

That would be as opposed to gay divorces (or at least gay divorcees), right?

#9 ::: Rob T. ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2009, 10:40 PM:

At least partially relevant to the topic at hand (touching on the prestige of online journalism, at any rate), I just found this interesting article.

#10 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2009, 10:45 PM:

I think I'm going to pitch my citizen journalist umbrella-corp idea to the EFF (maybe as a perk of membership). If anyone sees any logic holes in what I've said so far, please let me know.

#11 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2009, 10:59 PM:

Earl, how do you square the penny-a-year thing with minimum wage laws?

#12 ::: Bob Webber ::: (view all by) ::: December 02, 2009, 11:22 PM:

Nice one, Patrick! Fortunately for me, I'm already married to a lesbian, so I don't have to worry about the mandatory gay marriage.

The bit about, "...the nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy by a syndic of workers’ soviets." left me giggling helplessly for a while.

#13 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2009, 01:06 AM:

Operate as a virtual restaurant (selling food for thought) with tips from customers (pooled Paypal links on the member blogs)?

Ah, well, that makes the project much, much more expensive. The lower limit would probably be based on how much real-world stringers are paid, I suppose. I may have to recruit a billionaire sugar daddy to make this work. sigh.

#14 ::: Braxis ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2009, 04:08 AM:

Earl, it's OK; for some reason, writers are excluded from minimum wage laws.

#15 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2009, 06:04 AM:

PNH what happened to "and peasants" at the end of your second paragraph?

#16 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2009, 07:13 AM:

Rob T @ 8... to gay divorces (or at least gay divorcees)

...and Ginger could do it all, in high heels, backward.

#17 ::: Larry ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2009, 09:08 AM:

The only reason you'd define it is to protect the mainstream media.

Tom @#2: The publisher should not be held liable beyond the laws for slander and libel we have now. Free speech is free speech, even if you don't like what they say.

#18 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2009, 11:45 AM:

#4 Earl Cooley III suggested:

"One solution would be to create a new media dinosaur..."

If you do that it will have to engage in new media sodomy such that balance is maintained.

#19 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2009, 12:06 PM:

In today's economy, new media dinosaur engages in sodomy with *you*. :/

(Looking at articles about upcoming Comcast-NBC buyout...)

#20 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2009, 12:21 PM:

Neil Postman's Amusing Ourselves to Death seems to become more and more prescient every year.

#21 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2009, 12:26 PM:

Serge @ 16: ...but I'm not divorced. Or divorceed, whichever you prefer.

#22 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2009, 01:25 PM:

Cadbury Moose @ 18: "If you do that it will have to engage in new media sodomy such that balance is maintained."

Oh, I think there's a large enough excess of news media sodomy going on at present to support the establishment of a number of new media dinosaurs.

#23 ::: Cadbury Moose ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2009, 01:58 PM:

Andrew Plotkin @ 19:

" In today's economy, new media dinosaur engages in sodomy with *you*."

Yerse, That explains Lord Mandelson (demonstrably corrupt politician and sock puppet for various cartels) and his "Digital Economy" attack on various legal rights. Like Sooty he's entirely controlled by whoever has their hand up his bum, most recently the music industry in the shape of David Geffen.

#24 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2009, 03:40 PM:

Well, score one for the general good -- Kos twitters that the Durbin/Feingold amendment wasn't even considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Thank you, Pat Leahy.

#25 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2009, 05:11 PM:

No relation. No relation. No relation.

(I can't name any kid of mine after my father because I don't want a kid named after a Congressman. Especially that one.)

Hey, Senators, have you ever considered the fact that a privileged press is no longer a free press and therefore runs counter to the First Amendment?

Twits.

#26 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2009, 06:26 PM:

Rob T, #8, Night and day, you are the one?

#27 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2009, 06:42 PM:

Ginger @ 21... Oh, that's not what I meant, regarding the 'all'. Can you dance though? asks the dunce.

#28 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 03, 2009, 07:47 PM:

25
i pointed that one out when I emailed DiFi opposing this maeasure.

I understand it didn't make it to the floor of the committee.

#29 ::: Paul the ex-poet ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2009, 04:44 AM:

WRiters do have a civil defense fund. It's called the ACLU and I donate every year.

#30 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2009, 07:08 AM:

Cadbury Moose @23: I'm going to nobble my MP on that very topic in person this evening, in the company of a local film director.

(My particular focus for tonight will be "are you planning to ram through licencing of literary agents, academic journals, and anthology editors deliberately, or is this just clueless blundering?" (With a side order of "this is going to destroy the short story anthology as an art form in the UK".) No need to rant about the evils of "three strikes" internet disconnection when I can sound serious and professional and point out huge flaws in the bill that are going to damage his sober, serious, hard-working constituents' livelihoods if he votes for it, unamended. In the run-up to an election. In a marginal constituency.)

#31 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2009, 08:40 AM:

Serge @ 27: "Can't sing. Can't dance. Can act a little."

#32 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2009, 09:17 AM:

Ginger @ 31... Still, that's one better than Lina Lamont.

"Lina. She can't act, she can't sing, she can't dance. A triple threat."
- Cosmo, in Singin' in the Rain

#33 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2009, 10:42 AM:

Ginger, 31: (ObDanceGeek) If you're talking about Fred Astaire's screen test, it was "Can't sing, can't act, can dance a little."

#34 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2009, 12:23 PM:

TxAnne @33: Yep, that's Fred. I can act a little..maybe even better than Lina.

Serge @ 32: But Moses supposes his toeses are roses!

#35 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2009, 12:37 PM:

#30: Wow, Charlie, that bit of legislative thinking is pretty strange.

"Gee, officer, I know I have my artistic license around here somewhere . . ."

#36 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: December 04, 2009, 01:41 PM:

Ginger @ 34... Erroneously!

#37 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2009, 02:51 AM:

By Serge, I think they've got it!

#38 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 05, 2009, 12:08 PM:

Kathryn @35: the intent of Clauses 41-43 of the Digital Economy Bill appears to be to impose licensing/code of conduct requirements on collections agencies like BMI or ASCAP. Unfortunately the precise definition of a copyright agency the act uses comes from CDTA(1988) and covers everyone who licenses out the use of copyrights on behalf of more than one client.

I had an ... interesting ... interview with my local MP yesterday. He's happy to act as a conduit and tell us who to talk to, but the mere hint that he might like to get involved personally produced the kind of arm-crossing/leaning-back-in-chair/fast-talking reaction you might expect if we'd told him there was a vampire in the church hall up the road and would he like to help us stake it?

Given that the bill was introduced by Baron Mandelson (Prince of Darkness, Lord of Mordor, and Holder of Gordon Brown's balls), his response is probably not inexplicable. But it's going to make for a bit more legwork ...

#39 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: December 07, 2009, 04:34 PM:

Ginger, Serge, TexAnne @multiple -

Buckaroo Banzai: Uh huh. Can you sing?

New Jersey: A little. Yeah. I can dance...

#40 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2009, 06:38 PM:

This amendment didn't make it into the final bill.

Hurray!

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