Larry Atkins, journalist and adjunct professor of media and communication, explains and critiques an amendment to the Free Flow of Information Act, the third federal shield law that Congress has considered, in an article for Huffington Post, “Federal Media Shield Law Should Extend to Unpaid Bloggers and Citizen Journalists.” The amendment, proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, would exclude unpaid journalists and bloggers from protection under the media shield law. Atkins, however, argues that the changing media landscape calls for a broader definition of “journalist.”
Under Feinstein’s definition, an unpaid blogger for The Huffington Post might not be eligible for the shield law privilege, even though the site is one of the top 10 news sites in the country with more than 20 million readers per month. Bloggers and website operators like Nate Silver, Ana Marie Cox, and Bill Simmons wouldn’t have been protected when they were blogging on their own, but once they were hired and started blogging for the New York Times, The Guardian, and ESPN, respectively, they would be protected. In light of massive newspaper layoffs, how about former reporters who start reporting and interviewing sources on their own unpaid websites and blogs? What about people who self-publish nonfiction books that contain interviews from sources? What about student newspapers at universities and high schools that want to engage in investigative journalism? There is also a rise of citizen journalism, where average people are muckraking and reporting news. It’s common sense to believe that many bloggers are trying to become a modern-day Thomas Paine.
Atkins published several other stories over the summer, including the following: