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J-School Launches Media Law Web Site

  • By Newmark J-School Staff

Whether you’re a blogger, Facebook member, hyperlocal citizen journalist, or occasional web site contributor, how can you avoid legal trouble?

Rule Number One: Check your facts.

Rule Number Two: Avoid virtual vendettas.

CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism, in collaboration with the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Knight Citizen News Network, has launched an interactive, multimedia web site to provide these and other answers. “The Top Ten Rules To Limit Legal Risk” offers concrete rules to encourage citizen journalism by providing training on legal rights and responsibilities related to news gathering and online publication.

In addition to the rules and in-depth content, the site features animations, quizzes and videos, as well as a blog for public dialogue on law-related questions and concerns that will be moderated by CUNY Associate Professor Geanne Rosenberg and will include participation from attorneys at the Harvard Law School Berkman Center for Internet & Society’s Citizen Media Law Project.

“We are pleased to provide this resource to citizen journalists,” said Stephen Shepard, dean of the journalism school. “The law in this area is rapidly developing, and citizen journalists don’t have the resources of a legal department to draw upon. Many of the rules are based on the same principles of fairness and caution that we teach to professional journalists at the school,” Shepard added.

“This vital module with advice that could help keep bloggers out of jail is a great new addition to the Knight Citizen News Network, which already is the best one-stop-shop site for citizen journalism training,” said Gary Kebbel, journalism program officer at Knight Foundation.

Each rule in the educational module is aimed at helping citizen journalists avoid lawsuits; each rule serves as an entry point for more in-depth material. While other educational materials on online publication are organized by legal doctrines such as libel, privacy, laws of access, and intellectual property law, the “Top Ten Rules” are organized around practical guidelines for safer and more effective journalistic conduct.

The module aims to educate citizen journalists about legal hotspots, help them distinguish between genuine legal problems and intimidation tactics, learn simple practical steps to reduce legal risk, find additional resources and information, understand rights related to news gathering, and recognize when to reach out for a lawyer’s advice.

The site was produced by Professor Rosenberg, who teaches at CUNY’s Graduate School of Journalism and Baruch College, in collaboration with J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism, under a grant from the Knight Foundation and with support from CUNY Journalism. Professor Rosenberg, an attorney and journalist who teaches media law, served as the principal researcher and writer, in a broad collaboration that included Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, J-Lab’s Knight Citizen News Network and other organizations.

Contributors to the project included the Knight Foundation’s Eric Newton and Gary Kebbel; Jeff Jarvis, head of interactive journalism at the CUNY Graduate School and author of the influential Buzzmachine.com weblog; CUNY Journalism Video Editor John Nolan; CUNY Prof. Duy Linh Tu, who designed the home page and provided Flash technology; and J-Lab Executive Director Jan Schaffer, who provided editorial and design oversight and invaluable suggestions and feedback.

Providing additional legal expertise were: Director David Ardia and Assistant Director Sam Bayard of the Harvard Law School Berkman Center for Internet & Society’s Citizen Media Law Project; Media Law Resource Center Staff Attorneys Eric P. Robinson and Maherin Gangat; and Lee Levine, partner at Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, L.L.P.

The CUNY Graduate School of Journalism opened its doors in August 2006. The three-semester full-time Master of Arts program equips students to work in multimedia newsrooms and report in specialty areas; a key mission is to help diversify the profession. The School is one of 20 colleges and graduate schools that make up The City University of New York (CUNY), the nation’s largest urban public university. For more information on the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, visit www.journalism.cuny.edu.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation promotes journalism excellence worldwide and invests in the vitality of U.S. communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. For more on Knight’s work, visit their Web site.

For more information, contact: Prof. Geanne Rosenberg, (646) 312-3969, geanne.rosenberg@journalism.cuny.edu.