Chapter 4 Summary

As a journalist, you need to understand that you must have evidence that supports your story or statement. This is because any story you publish has the potential to damage someones reputation, and if the story turns out to be false, you could be sued for libel.

Libel is meant to protect an individual’s reputation. Furthermore, it allows a person who believes his or her reputation has been injured to file a claim against the party responsible, asking for damages in an effort to obtain monetary compensation and to restore his or her reputation.

The original idea behind this was that a person’s reputation is something of value that is worth protecting. This is understandable as, throughout the  course of Western civilization, reputation has been closely associated with one’s ability to participate in a community’s social and economic life.

Libel’s counterpart, slander, is also a defamatory act that damages reputation. However, slander is when a reputation is damaged through spoken word, which makes it much harder to prove. Libel, on the other hand, is a defamatory act that damages reputation through writing, whether that be an article, social media post, billboard, etc. Because this it is written, a party is much more likely to win a libel case compared to a slander case.

Many of the issues involving libel that existed in previous eras have surfaced again in the 20th and 21st centuries, as the opportunities for libelous speech have increased exponentially with the development of communications technology. With that said, there is a still a requirement for the party to demonstrate one or more claims of libel through  evidence, which is known as the burden of proof.

A plaintiff must prove that the libel was a statement of fact, was published, clearly concerned the plaintiff, was defamatory, was false, caused damage or harm and the defendant is clearly at fault. As you can see, libel is not always the easiest to prove, but proving those aforementioned characteristics will certainly help your case.

However, the first characteristic, “a statement of fact” might be confusing at first sight. If it is a fact, then it’s true, and therefore not libelous, right? Well, not exactly. In regards to libel, a “statement of fact” just means that the libel was an assertion, appearing to be fact. In other words, the libelous statement was not just an opinion.

For instance, if you write that the food at a certain restaurant is awful, that is an opinion, and therefore not classified as libel. However, if you write that that specific restaurant gave someone food poisoning or has rats, you are offering an assertion of fact that can either be proven or disproven, meaning it can be tried as libel if disproven.

Another major key in libel cases is that the plaintiff is required to show that he or she was harmed or, possibly, was a member of a small group that was defamed. With that said, as long as someone other than the plaintiff and the defendant recognize that the content is about the plaintiff, identification has been made. In addition, the intention of the publisher is not critical to this determination; a publisher may not have intended implicate the plaintiff, but identification could have occurred nonetheless.

Lastly, actual malice is defined as the knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for the truth. Knowledge of falsity is nothing more than lying or publishing information that you know is false. However, this is uncommon in the news media, as truth and accuracy are universal standards.

On the other had, reckless disregard for the truth is a little more common. Reckless disregard for the truth is just a more professional way of classifying sloppy journalism, as seen by Sabrina Erdely in “A Rape on Campus“. Things that can be classified as a reckless disregard for truth, for example, could be not cross-checking information, verifying your information, asking witnesses, checking the credibility of your sources, letting your biases drive your reporting and so on.

To prevent this, simply stay objective, do your job and don’t take short cuts. With that said, both reckless disregard for truth and knowledge of falsity can be prevented if you simply perform the fundamentals of your job.




Final Essay

Law: The Cornerstone of Journalism

Journalism, in general, is a career-choice where each day can offer something completely different from the last. In some instances, you have to use your best judgement and follow your morals, other instances may force you to into an uncomfortable situation, as you need to do so in order to make a living. However, in the end, through everything you have learned so far and everything you will learn in the future, you will find out that fully understanding the relationship between journalism and law is, perhaps, the most important factor in determining the success and longevity of your journalism career.

In your first days, you will quickly find out that although you may hold some privileges, your degree doesn’t grant you any more access to public information than any other person on the face of the earth. In other words, you, me, your dentist, your peers and virtually everyone are equal in the eyes of the law.

However, you will also quickly learn that your work will depend solely on the relationships that you form with others, and that having a quality relationship with others will make your job much easier. In other words, your rapport has a direct correlation with how easy your job as a journalist and how successful your career will be. 

With that said, you must protect your rapport at all cost. You must remain ethical, honor source confidentiality and produce your best work at all times. Following these will require lots of hours, lots of late nights, lots of early mornings and even some missed family events. But, as you already should know, a career of journalism isn’t a walk in the park. In fact, it takes a certain type of individual, an individual that emits confidence, positivity, grit, determination and of course, passion. 

First and foremost, the saying “work smarter, not harder” relates to virtually all types of careers. However, it is especially true in journalism. You need to understand that nearly all types of information, excluding some, are accessible to the public. Now, they may not be the easiest to find at times, but mostly everything you will need will be classified as public information, meaning that me, you, your dentist and your dentist’s dentist has legal access to it. 

For example, by going to, you can literally search for anyone and find their records in the state of Iowa. As mentioned, this is public information, which means that this service isn’t exclusive to Iowa. In fact, all 50 states offer this, however, the way of retrieving such information may vary from state to state.

For instance, the state of Kansas offers an online service similar to Iowa’s, however, you must pay a fee. Other states don’t offer any online database, so you are required to go to the courthouse directly and ask for the information yourself. Either way, regardless of what state you are in, if you need to find information on someone, understand that you have full access to their personal records and there is no excuse for you not to study up. 

Another basic you need to understand is when using a camera. Journalism has evolved over the recent years. In fact, it’s evolved so much that you no longer need to haul around all types of equipment. Now, everything you need can be accessed through your mobile device. Seriously, you have the internet, a notepad, a voice recorder and a camera. What more could you need?

With that said, you also need to make sure that you utilize your cell phone correctly. For example, when you are recording and taking photos, remember to hold your device sideways, not vertically. When you are using your voice recording software for an interview, make sure that the interviewee is aware.

Moving on, as a journalist, you are going to develop friendships, partnerships and professional relationships. However, you also will develop enemies, or in other words, there will be people who just don’t like you or agree with you, whether that be a politician, a colleague or just a random individual. 

Regardless of who likes you and who doesn’t, you have one job and that job is to find and report the truth. With that said, there will be times people doubt your story, doubt your evidence or think you are wasting your time on a case. At that point, you need to ignore the noise, follow your gut and do your job. 

Ironically, if journalists stopped investigating something because of other people’s opinions, some of the most iconic crimes in U.S. history would have never been solved. A prime example of this would be the massive Roman Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal in Boston back in 2002. 

In this situation, the Boston Globe brought in a new editor by the name of Martin Baron. Upon arrival, Baron had one goal, and that goal was to be the best editor possible and make the Boston Globe the best newspaper it could be. Knowing this, he immediately came in and made changes. These changes didn’t appeal to the existing journalists at the Globe, in fact, a lot of them said he was crazy and we’re skeptical of change. Walter Robinson, who was a longtime journalist for the Boston Globe at the time, even told Baron that, “I like the paper as it is,” right to his face. 

Although he faced some heat, Baron continued to follow his gut and ignore the opinion’s of others. Baron then uncovered some information about sexual abuse within the Catholic church that involved several priests assaulting young boys. When Baron brought this information to the attention of the journalists, they thought he was crazy to try to go up against the Catholic Church. 

Long story short, Baron continued to push this case and assigned tasks to his journalists. They slowly started uncovering more information about the sexual abuse and ultimately published one of the most iconic stories in U.S. History about one of the most powerful organizations in world, the Roman Catholic Church. 

However, this lesson isn’t important just because the story got so much feedback, was associated with the Pulitzer Prize and was even made into a movie. The lesson is that since Baron stood his ground, followed his gut and sought after the truth, he was able to uncover and reveal the disgusting truth of thousands of sexual abuse incidents in the Catholic Church stemming back into the 1970’s. Furthermore, Baron helped the survivors of this terrible tragedy get their story out and ultimately receive closure after a life of pain. 

Now, not every case you investigate will be a nation-wide phenomenon and not every story you publish will change the lives of others. However, if you do happen to get your hands on some potentially groundbreaking information, you must, absolutely must make sure that you have solid and conclusive evidence to support your information, whether you know its true or not. Gathering such evidence might include several interviews, you asking the same questions and you being repetitive. But ultimately you need to make sure that your story has absolutely no flaws and no question of truth before you publish it. 

Unfortunately, you may know something is completely true, but if you can’t prove that to others, then you really can’t move forward with it from a journalism perspective. This is why you need to be ready to dig deep for information, be prepared to schedule several interviews and even put something like this to the forefront of your life. Now, of course family and depending on your views, religion, must prioritized, but sometimes your life will revolve around your career, especially since you are always on the clock.

Anyways, a prime example of a journalist not verifying information, cross-checking information and speaking with all witnesses and sources can be seen in the infamous “A Rape on Campus” story by Rolling Stone. The journalist, Sabrina Erdely, was known for her crime stories, hence her investigating a rape on a college campus.

Erdely met with a student at the University of Virginia by the name of Jackie. Jackie told Erdely a story about how she was brutally raped by seven male students in a fraternity house. Instead of asking supposed witnesses from the event, such as Jackie’s peers, Erdely trusted Jackie and published the story. 

The the story blew up and the reputation of the University of Virginia was severely damaged, as well as the Dean, Nicole Eramo. If the story were true, then yes, a brutal, seven-person sexual assault deserves to be published and for it to be put under a spotlight. However, the key word is true, and the story was ultimately debunked. 

It turned out that Jackie had changed her story several times, the names of the boys that assaulted her didn’t match anyone at the fraternity or anyone in the entire university, Jackie’s friends had different sides to the story and ultimately none of Jackie’s story appeared to be credible. 

This could have been easily prevented had Erdely simply interviewed her friends, checked the school database for names of the alleged rapists and ultimately verified Jackie’s information. Unfortunately for Erdely, she failed her job as a journalist, and because of that, her reputation shattered and her career was destroyed.

Furthermore, the story caused major amounts of damage to the University of Virginia, Dean Eramo and the Phi Kappi Psi fraternity.  This lead to defamatory lawsuits that resulted in millions of dollars awarded. For example, Dean Eramo was award $3 million in damages, while Phi Kappa Psi was awarded $1.65 million. 

This is another reason you need to find evidence that supports your information, because if you’re wrong, you can get sued for slander and libel, which will both ruin your career and destroy your pocket. 

The do’s and don’ts of journalism goes on forever. The impacts that law has on journalism, too, could go on forever. Ranging from the First Amendment, freedom of the press, public and private information, public and private property, subpoenas, source confidentiality, ethics, morals and the list goes on. Although I can’t touch on all these topics in a reasonable word count, I was able to touch on the basics and show tricks that will make your job much easier. With that said, after the tricks shown, advice given and examples of previous fails and success, you should understand that understanding law is absolutely required in order to be a successful journalist.

Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Nation’s Most Hated Church

The Westboro Baptist Church is known for being nuisance and causing trouble, however, the church has constantly maintained that their actions, whether viewed as disgusting or not, are fully legal. On March 10, 2007, Westboro picketed the funeral of Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, who was killed in Iraq in the line of duty. The signs they displayed included sayings such as,.” Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Fags Doom Nations,” “America is Doomed,” “Priests Rape Boys,” and “You’re Going to Hell”.

This angered Albert Snyder, the grieving father of Matthew, and ultimately caused him to take Westboro to court, claiming “intentional infliction of emotional distress, intrusion upon seclusion and civil conspiracy,” by Westboro. This set the stage for a landmark United States Supreme Court case that lead to a 8-1 decision ruling in favor of Westboro Baptist Church.

As inhumane as the actions by Westboro may have been, they were fully legal in the eyes of law, which is why the majority rule in favor of Westboro. Although it was an 8-1 decision, it wasn’t an easy one by any means.

The opinion, as told by Chief Justice John Roberts, revolved around the question whether the First Amendment shields the church members from tort liability for their speech in this case.

Westboro had previously notified authorities about their intention to protest the service. Upon arrival, the picketers followed the police instructions and compiled within a 10- by 25-foot plot of public land adjacent to a public street, behind a temporary fence, approximately 1,000 feet away from the funeral.

It’s also important to note that none of the picketers left their public land, meaning that none actually went to the funeral. Also, according to Justice Roberts, “They (Westboro) did not yell or use profanity, and there was no violence associated with the picketing.”

Although Snyder filed for intrusion upon seclusion and emotional distress against Westboro, he could only see the tops of the signs as he drove to the funeral, not during the funeral. Furthermore, he did not see what was written on the signs until later that night after watching a news broadcast that covered the event.

On the other hand, it’s no doubt that Snyder endured some emotional distress. In fact, expert witnesses testified that Snyder’s emotional anguish from the picketing had resulted in severe depression and had exacerbated pre-existing health conditions. However, this didn’t change the fact that, according to the court, “Westboro’s statements were entitled to First Amendment protection because those statements were on matters of public concern, were not provably false, and were expressed solely through hyperbolic rhetoric.”

This was important because in order to succeed on a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress in Maryland, “a plaintiff must demonstrate that the defendant intentionally or recklessly engaged in extreme and outrageous conduct that caused the plaintiff to suffer severe emotional distress.”

In regards to the First Amendment, “not all speech is of equal importance,” stated Justice Roberts. In other words, the power of the First Amendment really depends on the circumstance of the case as well as whether the speech is of public or private concern.

With that said, the court asserted that speech deals with matters of public concern when it “can be fairly considered as relating to any matter of politi- cal, social, or other concern to the community,” Connick, supra, at 146, or when it “is a subject of legitimate news interest; that is, a subject of general interest and of value and concern to the public,” San Diego, supra, at 83–84.

On the other hand, speech that deals with matters of a private concern, for example, can be seen in the opinion in Dun & Bradstreet. In this case, the speech was about an individual’s credit score, essentially of no public issue.

With both of those examples at hand, it was time to determine whether Westboro’s speech was of public or private matter. In order to do so, the court had to examine the “content, form, and context” of Westboro’s speech.

Upon further analysis, it was concluded that the “content” of Westboro’s signs plainly relates to broad issues of interest to society at large, rather than matters of “purely private concern.” In addition, although Snyder contended that the “context” of the speech and its connection with his son’s funeral made the speech a matter of private rather than public concern, the court concluded that since Westboro was on public land, their speech was “fairly characterized as constituting speech on a matter of public concern,” meaning that the funeral setting did not alter that conclusion.

Snyder continued to argue, claiming that Westboro mounted a personal attack on Snyder and his family, and then attempted to “immunize their conduct by claiming that they were actually protesting the United States’ tolerance of homosexuality or the supposed evils of the Catholic Church.”

In response, the court claimed that, “There was no pre-existing relationship or conflict between Westboro and Snyder that might suggest Westboro’s speech on public matters was intended to mask an attack on Snyder over a private matter.” With that said, the fact that Westboro had actively engaged in speaking on the subjects addressed in its picketing long before it became aware of Matthew Snyder also supported this idea.

The court also made sure to clarify that even protected speech is not equally permissible, as speech is always subject to “reasonable time, place, or manner restrictions”. However, being that Westboro notified authorities prior to their arrival, followed the authority’s guidelines, was at least 1,000 feet away from the service and their was no shouting or violence, their speech was entitled to special protection under the First Amendment, regardless of whether the speech is “upsetting or arouses contempt,” held the court.

Synder also contended that, “Westboro is not immunized from liability for intrusion upon seclusion because Snyder was a member of a captive audience at his son’s funeral, even Westboro’s speech is entitled to First Amendment protection.”

Still, the court did not agree, asserting that, “The Constitution does not permit the government to decide which types of otherwise protected speech are sufficiently offensive to require protection for the unwilling listener or viewer. Rather, … the burden normally falls upon the viewer to avoid further bombardment of [his] sensibilities simply by averting [his] eyes.” In other words, the court was re-emphasizing the idea that the government is now allowed to decide what is offensive and what is not, especially in this particular situation.

In the end, the court’s vote, as mentioned, was narrow and in favor of Westboro. They made sure to assure Synder that Westboro’s funeral picketing was certainly a hurtful act and did “inflict great pain,” however, they also added that the pain caused was irrelevant as “Westboro addressed matters of public import on public property, in a peaceful manner, in full compliance with the guidance of local officials.” This is what ultimately affirmed the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

Justice Stephen Breyer, the concurrent, also agreed with the court and joined its opinion, standing behind the idea that, “The First Amendment protects the picketing that occurred here, primarily because the picketing addressed matters of public concern.”

However, while Justice Breyer agreed with the court’s decision, he also stated that “even though the picketing addressed matters of public concern, he did not believe that our First Amendment analysis can stop at that point.” Furthermore, Justice Breyer added that, “A state can sometimes regulate picketing, even picketing on matters of public concern, as seen in Frisby v. Schultz, 487 U. S. 474 (1988).”

To further support his concurrence, Justice Breyer added that an example of a state being allowed to regulate picketing would be if the protesters were to use physical violence, which would ultimately result in them no longer being protected by the the First Amendment. Justice Breyer stressed the importance of this as he claimed, “In some circumstances the use of certain words as means would be similarly unprotected.”

The dissent, as by Justice Samuel Alito, recognized the ideas of Justice Breyer’s concurrence. In fact, Alito claimed that, “The speech, like an assault, seriously harmed a private individual,” therefore implying that Westboro not be protected.

“Petitioner Albert Snyder is not a public figure. He is simply a parent whose son, Marine Lance Corporal Matthew Snyder, was killed in Iraq,” opened Justice Alito, “Mr. Snyder wanted what is surely the right of any parent who experiences such an incalculable loss: to bury his son in peace. But respondents, members of the Westboro Baptist Church, deprived him of that elementary right.”

Furthermore, Justice Alito added that, “The Court now holds that the First Amendment protected respondents’ right to brutalize Mr. Snyder. I cannot agree.”

Justice Alito made sure to support the power of the First Amendment, stating that, “The First Amendment ensures that Westboro has almost limitless opportunities to express their views.”

However, he also claimed that although the First Amendment allows them to publish books, appear on television, post messages and even peacefully picket, “It does not allow them to intentionally inflict severe emotional injury on private persons at a time of intense emotional sensitivity by launching vicious verbal attacks that make no contribution to public debate.”

Continuing his rant, “On the morning of Matthew Snyder’s funeral, respondents could have chosen to stage their protest at countless locations. They could have picketed the United States Capitol, the White House, the Supreme Court, the Pentagon, or any of the more than 5,600 military recruiting stations in this country.” argued Justice Alito.

“In order to have a society in which public issues can be openly and vigorously debated, it is not necessary to allow the brutalization of innocent victims like petitioner,” concluded Justice Alito, “I therefore respectfully dissent.”

In the end, the case of Snyder v. Phelps came down to what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s humane and what’s inhumane and where the First Amendment no longer protects a speech.

On that note, unfortunately, for the Snyder family, it is very difficult to challenge the First Amendment in the court of law, as it is a constitutional right and a cornerstone of the United States of America. Although it was an 8-1 decision in favor of Westboro, it was never believed once that Westboro’s actions were humane and acceptable under any circumstance. However, as seen several times throughout U.S. Supreme Court history, the First Amendment proved once again that it is the most difficult amendment to dispute.

Chapter 9 Summary

In chapter 8 it was discussed that courts have generally held that journalists have the same degree of access to information as any other person. Although this may be true, that does not mean journalists or reporters don’t have some type of privilege over any other person.

Since journalists come across a lot of information throughout their careers, it’s not secret that some of that information will be sensitive and potentially useful to criminal investigations. With that said, reporters and journalists are more likely to get their hands on this type of information. However, being that the information is highly important, the source may ask not to be revealed, meaning the reporter should agree and grant source confidentiality.

The concept of reporters privilege is a little different than what you’d expect. Most would think that it simply means that journalist and reporters are more likely or more fitting to receive certain information. Although this may be true, the actual definition of reporter’s privilege refers to the concept that reporters can keep information such as source identity confidential, even if the information is sought through court order.

For example, if a judge orders a reporter to reveal a source or information not yet published, the journalist does not have to. The idea of keeping a source secret is a vital piece of a journalist’s career, as breaking that promise could result in a severely damaged reputation, meaning your job as a journalist could be over. For example, if you reveal confidential information, no one will want to tell you confidential information in the future.

However, a court can issue a subpoena, which is an order to appear in court to testify or produce evidence, even if the source is confidential. On the other hand, recipients may file a motion to quash the subpoena, which is simply a request to nullify or annul the subpoena.

This idea of reporter’s privilege developed from a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case known as Branzburg v. Hayes. In this case, Paul Branzburg, a reporter, had uncovered and written about illegal drug use and sales in the Louisville, Kentucky area. Branzburg promised his sources that he would not identify them.

Of course, because of the severity of his articles, the court issued a subpoena for Branzburg to appear in court and answer questions about his sources and information. However, Branzburg kept his promise and did not reveal his sources, as he claimed the First Amendment and its free press clause meant that he should not be required to reveal confidential information given the circumstances of their cases.

The Branzburg case definitely set the stage for several other laws regarding what a journalist must and must not reveal. State legislatures also passed shield laws, which are state laws that protect journalists from being found in concept of court for refusing to reveal sources. However, it is important to note that not all states have implemented shield laws. In fact, Idaho, Iowa, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia and Wyoming have no federal shield law.

Although shield laws were created to protect reporters, only specific kinds of information are protected, and this information varies from state to state. For example, when called to testify about events reporters witnessed, such as crimes, most federal shield laws to not protect them. Also, when journalists and/or news organizations are defendants, like in a libel case, protecting source identity is likely to be rejected.

We’ve talked about laws protecting journalists, but does anything exist to protect the sources if a journalist were to decide to break confidentiality? Well, the U.S. Supreme Court faced an issue like this when a news organization voluntarily decided to reveal the identity of a source after making a promise of confidentiality.

In Cohen v. Cowles Media Co., Dan Cohen had associated with the campaign of a Minnesota gubernatorial candidate. As election day neared, he contacted four reporters between Minneapolis and St. Paul and offered them information about a political opponent, informing them that she had been arrested for unlawful assembly and for petty theft more than 10 years earlier. Of course, Cohen made sure that it was known to the reporters that the information could only be used if he were not identified as the source.

Before publication, a debate ensued in both newsrooms on whether to their promises of confidentiality they made with Cohen. However, they believed that Cohen had engaged in “dirty tricks” politics, which lead them to conclude that identifying him was essential so readers could completely evaluate the stories. With that said, the articles were then published with Cohen clearly identified as the source.

As a result, Cohen was fired from his job. Angry, Cohen sued the newspapers, claiming that they breached a contractual agreement of confidentiality. The trial court agreed, awarding Cohen $200,000 in compensatory damages as well as $500,000 in punitive damages.

However, after an appeal, the case eventually grew and made it’s way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the concept of promissory estoppel arose, which is a legal doctrine requiring liability when a clear and unambiguous promise is made and is relied on and injury results from breaking the promise.

Ultimately, to be a successful journalist, you must understand the importance of source confidentiality and the potential consequences if you were to break that confidentiality. Furthermore, you also need to understand your right as a reporter to deny the court the source of your information. If a subpoena is issued, remember that you have the option to try to quash it.

Chapter 8 Summary

As this class is title Journalism & Law, it’s understood that a journalist’s job is to newsgather. However, in today’s day and age, regardless of whether you’re a certified journalist or not, there are still times when access is limited to potentially newsworthy documents, records, people and places. With that said, a journalist must understand what is public and what is not, and what they have access to, what they don’t have access to and how to handle a situation where they are not granted access to something when they are legally allowed to.

First and foremost, while some newsgathering protection exists, the First Amendment does not guarantee the press a constitutional right of special access to information not available to the public generally.  Furthermore, the courts have generally held that journalists have the same degree of access as any person. To put this into perspective, I, a 20-year old college student has the same degree of access as Anelia in the eyes of legal system.

Where do journalists stand in regards to access to property? Well, although journalists and bloggers may find information online and conduct interviews by phone and email, being where news events occur remains a crucial part of reporting. Absent a First Amendment right to gather news, journalists may not be allowed to enter public, quasi-public or private land or buildings. On the other hand, what happens if the event occurs on public property?

In regards to access to public property, generally, journalists have the same right as anyone. Police and other public safety officials may order individuals, including the press, to stay away from a crime scene or other event if their presence could take it difficult for officials to carry out their duties. In fact, those who disobey this lawful order may be arrested for interfering with police functions.

However, what defines something as “making it difficult for officials to carry out their duties”? Because of this law’s murky meaning, public safety officials do not have an unlimited right to prevent journalists and others from observing a crime scene.

For example, if a television news photographer, standing on public property, used a bright light to film police taking suspects from a robbery scene, and the police demanded the photographer to hand over the camera, who is obeying and disobeying the law here?

Well, if the officers didn’t prove how the light or camera interfered with their duties, the officers, in the eyes of the law, violated the photographer’s First Amendment rights. This concept applies if the police were to arrest someone recording a crime scene with a cell phone in a public park. So, as long as you’re on public property, and not effecting officer’s duties, you have the right to be a journalist, regardless of what the officer’s may say.  As a journalist, this is a vital fact that you must understand as not understanding it can either get you in trouble or limit you from getting fully-legal, public and important information.

If something is on private property, as mentioned earlier, the rights of a journalist are no different than any other individual. In fact, trespassing is a common journalist mistake. Permission to enter a property may be given or denied only by the owner of the property or a resident. This is why law enforcement must obtain a search warrant to have the legal authority to enter a property.

Luckily, there is a concept called a ride-along, which is the practice of journalists and other private citizens accompanying government officials, usually law enforcement, as they carry out their duties. This practice is vital for a journalist as it provides them with material for stories or program segments while also benefitting the officer as they receive greater public visibility. However, a series of rulings weighing the media’s First Amendment rights against resident’ has significantly limited news media access, thus making the concept of a “ride-along” not nearly as popular as it once was.

Lastly, journalism is a journalist’s way of living. This means they must do everything they can to receive information, even if that means repeatedly asking questions and being nuisance. However, where is the line drawn between a journalist doing their job and harassment?

The occurrence of harassment by journalist brought forth a concept know as tortious newsgathering, which is defined as the use o reporting techniques that are wrongful and unlawful and for which the victim may obtain damages in court. A word that is commonly linked to this concept is paparazzi, where those journalists tend to stalk, follow and disrupt celebrities.

As you can see, although journalism is how a journalist makes a living, a journalist must also understand where they stand in the eyes of law. Unfortunately, sometimes a degree in journalism doesn’t differentiate you from another random and less-qualified individual. Luckily, educating yourself on your rights as a journalist and when they are being violated can make your job much easier and make you a more effective journalist in the long run.



Chapter 6 Summary

In the world of law, conflicts between the press, the government and the right to privacy are inevitable. However, understanding the power of privacy and the  importance of privacy can make these conflicts go much smoother.

The first thing you need to understand is that Americans have been concerned about their privacy since day one, or the inception of the United States. Now, in the 21st century, the concern about privacy increases year by year.

However, although the concern for privacy has increased, it is far different than it was years ago. Before, people were concerned about soldiers in their homes or reporters snooping around. Now, people are concerned with technology allowing other individuals or even the government to watch them, listen to them or learn their inner-most secrets.

This paranoia of being watched by others or the government didn’t just arise from conspiracy theorists and somehow become a relevant idea. In fact, this concern was actually confirmed in the Summer of 2013 when the public learned that the U.S. and British intelligence agencies mined data from nine United States Internet companies as part of its PRISM program, which was designed to secretly gather information to fight terrorism.

Another reason the concern for privacy has increased is with the countless of important information available online. For example, a “doxxing” website recently exposed the Social Security numbers, credit reports, mortgage information, addresses, phone numbers and other sensitive information of celebrities and government officials.

For those unaware, doxxing is the practice of finding information about a person from limited, publicly available data. In other words, it is someone finding all of your information online, whether you want it online or not. This is important because it can happen to anyone.

This leads into the next concept, digital privacy invasions. These are serious because, like doxxing, they can lead to identity theft, as someone can access another person’s Social Security number, bank account number or passwords for various websites.

It’s also important to note that current federal and state privacy laws do not sufficiently protect American consumers. Instead, today the burden of understanding website’s privacy policies relies solely on the online users. Unfortunately, regardless of your privacy setting, it appears that truly nothing is private when on the internet in this day and age.

Being so important, you can surely bet that privacy laws and the Supreme Court have clashed many times. In 2010, the Supreme Court held that government employers may see public employee’s text messages sent and received on government-issued devices if the searches have a legitimate work-related purpose and the public employees have been told not to expect privacy.

This can be seen in the case, City of Ontario v. Quon, as a police officer used a department-issued pager to communicate with his wife and mistress. According to the court, the messages were sexually explicit. Although the officer used a department-issued pager, he claimed that city violated his reasonable expectation of privacy. Of course, in accordance with the 2010 ruling, the court ruled that the city and police department had full authority to search his pager, thus limiting his privacy.

However, although privacy has naturally diminished throughout the years, there is one major driving factor that really ripped the idea of privacy apart. This factor was the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centers, which is understandable as it was a monumental, defining and nation-shaping catastrophe for the United States.

Because of the attacks, employees of the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) may open and look through traveler’s luggage. This also lead to the enactment of the USA Patriot Act, which allows the government to obtain information about anyone from public libraries,businesses, hospitals and internet service providers.

As you can see, because of advances in technology, amount of information available online and terrorist attacks, the meaning of privacy has changed throughout the years and only continues to be diminished as time goes on. In regards to the court of law, it appears that what an individual views as private can actually come back and be used against them if it pertains to a certain case.


Class Notes 12/5 – Cake Opinion

We began class by immediately researching the recent Colorado Cake Supreme Court hearing. This case, as expected since it is being heard by the Supreme Court, is massive.

Essentially, a baker in Colorado refused to bake a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. The baker’s decision has evolved into a massive clash between religious beliefs and anti-discrimination laws.

I believe same-sex marriage should be legal and accepted everywhere, in other words, I believe people should be able to live as they please. Wit that said, my original opinion was that if you don’t want to serve someone, you have the right to do so, thus siding with the baker.

However, after careful reflection, my opinion changed.

I thought about the situation from a different aspect. What if the baker had refused to serve someone because they were black? How would I feel?

Well, I’d be angry, consider that illegal and ultimately want that specific business closed down.

So how is this situation any different? Well, it’s not. As a store owner, you must offer your services to everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender and sexual orientation.

Furthermore, with my conflicting opinions, I see exactly why this case has been taken to the Supreme Court.  Although it’s wrong to deny someone service, the baker is Christian, and if their religion doesn’t support gay marriage, where does the baker’s action of baking a cake stand between freedom of religion and discrimination? It’s crazy.

If I were on the Supreme Court, I would understand that baking the cake may be against the baker’s religion and understand that the baker does have a right to decline someone service. However,  I also understand that this is no different than someone denying service to a black person in the 1960’s. With that said, I don’t care what the laws are, it is 2017 and the refusal of service of someone because of skin, race, religion or sexual orientation should be illegal under ALL circumstances, in other words, this is far more important that someones right to simply deny service or deny service because of their religious beliefs.

Although laws are laws, the world is changing and so should laws. I’m not implying that religion should be dismissed or irrelevant, but in this specific case, discrimination like this needs to be stopped, thus making all other “arguments” irrelevant.