Archive for the ‘Shield Law’ Category


Shield law: kids … er … bright young adults say the darndest things

I came to Portland, Ore., this week to help with SPJ’s Narrative Writing Workshop. It was me who left with an education.

Taking advantage of end-of-year unused vacation days, I visited some friends in Oregon. One insisted I talk to her 8th grade reading/writing class. They’ve been studying persuasive writing, and apparently I know something about that. (I’m not a model journalist or persuasive writer, but I play one in 8th grade classrooms. Mom would be proud.)

My friend – Mrs. Edmonson, according to her students – had asked me to talk about my job. This would be easy, I’d imagined:

“Well, you see, kids, Twitter is a great tool for sharing news and information. Have you ever read the AP Stylebook? It’s a great resource…”

Yuck. Yuck. Yuck.

She – Mrs. Edmonson, that is – surprised me 12 hours before my grand arrival on campus by asking me to talk about the shield law, or, more accurately, the Free Flow of Information Act.

Indeed, it was the first time I’d been asked anything about the shield law in a non-work setting from a non-journalism industry person.

“Yeah, of course,” I said. “How old are your students?”

Truthfully, I don’t expect most adults – or the legislators and pundits currently debating the legislation – to fully understand the implications of the shield law. So, would a handful of kids … er … young adults grasp the idea of anonymous sources and compelled disclosure?

The answer, I found, is a resounding yes (though I never used the term “compelled disclosure”).

The lesson was fairly simple:

1)      Read a few short articles (on multiple subjects) citing anonymous sources.

2)      Ask when, if ever, people shouldn’t be named as sources.

3)      Brainstorm three pro and con arguments for a federal shield law.

(Yes, even though I work for an organization that explicitly wants a federal shield law, the lesson of the day was not to “indoctrinate,” but rather teach why people might approve or disapprove of this measure.)

Mrs. Edmonson’s task over the next week will be to assist these brilliant young adults as they write persuasive essays (editorials?) on why they support or do not support a federal shield law.

I know of at least one student who may seemingly support the idea of protecting journalists and their confidential sources. When told journalists can go to jail for keeping a promise to maintain anonymity, one student responded:

“Really? That’s just stupid.”

Now if only the U.S. Senate and American public could think the same way.

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Words we worried we’d never tweet: The Federal Shield Law is going to the floor

But tweet them we did!

Yesterday afternoon, the Free Flow of Information Act, passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The moment the vote was in, SPJ HQ began to celebrate. But we voluntarily cut our celebrating short, knowing it was imperative to alert our members of the news as soon as possible. And we – enthusiastically – did just that with a legislative alert to members, a press release to everyone else and tweets galore.

In a way, I arrived to SPJ Headquarters a bit late in the game. By the time I assumed communications responsibilities, the Society had been fighting for a federal shield law bill for five years. And to think I was getting frustrated with the process after only a few months! But patience is needed for such important, pivotal legislation. Patience and persistence. Because the battle for a federal shield law continues… Sen. Sessions released a strongly-worded news release against the bill shortly after it passed out of committee; we’re all pretty sure Sen. Feinstein (D-Calif.) won’t be backing down from her desired definition of a “covered person” anytime soon; and none of us have forgotten about the version of the bill that made it to the Senate floor in 2008 only to be stalled. (Knock on wood that won’t happen!)

At least one thing’s certain: SPJ won’t be giving up. The Society will continue fighting for a free press and the public’s right to know, whether we do it by sending SPJ President Kevin Smith back to D.C. to go to senator’s doors (which he volunteered to do happily last week – great job, Kevin), or through editorials and press releases, or through the hard work of our members whose calls and e-mails truly make a difference.  The fight continues.

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Shield law bill in danger – action needed from journalists

SPJ has learned that Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) may propose a detrimental amendment to S. 448 — more commonly referred to as the federal shield bill — in the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning. The amendment would limit who is protected by the bill to a “salaried employee” or “independent contractor” of a news organization.  This language would likely exclude from coverage many online journalists, freelancers without contracts, and students or volunteer journalists, among others. The amendment would also exclude people who publish anonymously or pseudonymously.

SPJ is adamantly opposed to this amendment. This morning, President Kevin Smith is on Capitol Hill to express the Society’s strong opposition. We encourage you to contact members of the Senate Judiciary Committee as early as possible this morning to tell them that you do not support an amendment that limits who is protected by the bill. The Committee is slated to vote on this bill at 10 a.m. Eastern (for a live webcast of the meeting, click here). Please be sure they hear from you before that time.

The following is a list of Senate Judiciary Committee members (Click on names for contact information):

Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Ranking Member
Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.)
Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)
Edward Kaufman (D-Del.)
Richard Durbin (D-Ill.)
Charles Grassley (R-Iowa)
Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.)
Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)
Al Franken (D-Minn.)
Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)
Tom Coburn (R-Okla.)
Arlen Specter (D-Pa.)
Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)
Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
John Cornyn (R-Texas)
Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)
Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman
Herb Kohl (D-Wis.)
Russell Feingold (D-Wis.)

 To learn more about SPJ’s efforts, click here. Read shield law press releases sent earlier this year on SPJ News.

Thank you for your immediate action to support this pivotal legislation.

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