Today's post comes from yesterday's Washington Post (WP).
Next week, VP Dick Cheney's former chief of staff Scooter Libby goes on trial on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.
The trial will be notable for something else beside its connection to the Bush White House: "For the first time in a federal court, two of these [100 seats set aside for the media] . . . will be reserved for bloggers.
"After two years of negotiations with judicial officials across the country, the Media Bloggers Association, a nonpartisan group with about 1,000 members working to extend the powers of the press to bloggers, has won credentials to rotate among its members."
According to Wikipedia, "Since 2002, blogs have gained increasing notice and coverage for their role in breaking, shaping, and spinning news stories. The Iraq War saw bloggers taking measured and passionate points of view that go beyond the traditional left-right divide of the political spectrum."
Rathergate, the scandal surrounding 60 Minutes anchor Dan Rather, was largely fueled by bloggers, who were the first to insist that the documents Rather produced to support his story about President Bush's military service were forgeries. Wikipedia says, "Many bloggers view this scandal as the advent of blogs' acceptance by the mass media, both as a source of news and opinion and as means of applying political pressure."
Bloggers continue to seek validation as serious journalists. However, many of them resist the rules by which the industry operates. "'The Internet today is like the American West in the 1880s. It's wild, it's crazy and everybody's got a gun,' said Thomas Kunkel, dean of the University of Maryland's journalism school. "There are no rules yet.'" (WP)
This carefree attitude toward reporting is likely to land many bloggers in legal trouble. "According to the Media Law Resources Center, 69 lawsuits have been brought against bloggers nationwide, including a $1 million suite filed last year against Maine blogger Lance Dutson, who accused his state's tourism department of wasting taxpayer money in a promotional campaign. The advertising agency that developed it sued for libel, defamation and copyright infringement, but ended up dropping the suite (sic) after advocates rallied to Dutson's defense." (WP) See my post of May 14, 2006 for more information on the Dutson affair.
The Post quoted a recent survey by the Pew Center in which bloggers were asked how carefully they pay attention to common journalistic practices like verifying facts and seeking both sides of a story. Forty-two percent of those responding reported that they hardly ever or never verify facts. Forty-one percent report that they don't include links to the original source material. Sixty-one percent indicated they hardly ever or never get permission to post copyrighted material.
As bloggers gain increasing credibility--and audience share--they are bound to face increasing liability. From the responses to the survey, it appears that few, if any, realize the risks they might be incurring.