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Nov. 2, 2009, 11:37 a.m.

Shield law: Definition of a journalist still up for grabs

Thanks to the American Society of News Editors, we can now read the compromise shield law hashed out last week by the White House, news-industry lobbyists, and the Senate Judiciary Committee. There are plenty of moving parts here, but I’ve been focused on the law’s definition of a journalist, as have others. The compromise takes an expansive view, covering amateur bloggers and student journalists as much as professional reporters.

For the most part, the Senate is merely returning to its original definition of a journalist, focused on the craft instead of the business. But there’s an additional line that requires an intent to distribute the information, which seems reasonable enough but could narrow the law’s scope. Here’s the relevant portion of the definition, with new language in italics:

(A) means a person who—
(i) with the primary intent to investigate events and procure material in order to disseminate to the public news or information concerning local, national, or international events or other matters of public interest, regularly gathers, prepares, collects, photographs, records, writes, edits, reports or publishes on such matters by—
(I) conducting interviews;
(II) making direct observation of events; or
(III) collecting, reviewing, or analyzing original writings, statements, communications, reports, memoranda, records, transcripts, documents, photographs, recordings, tapes, materials, data, or other information whether in paper, electronic, or other form;
(ii) has such intent at the inception of the process of gathering the news or information sought; and
(iii) obtains the news or information sought in order to disseminate it by means of print (including, but not limited to, newspapers, books, wire services, news agencies, or magazines), broadcasting (including, but not limited to, dissemination through networks, cable, satellite carriers, broadcast stations, or a channel or programming service for any such media), mechanical, photographic, electronic, or other means.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on the shield law (S. 448) on Thursday. Maneuverings over the definition of a journalist could turn out to be moot because the House’s version (H.R. 985), which passed in March, still only covers professional reporters who produce journalism “for a substantial portion of the person’s livelihood or for substantial financial gain.” That would have to be resolved in conference between the House and Senate, and we’ll certainly keep an eye on those negotiations.

Here’s the full text of the Senate’s version, courtesy of ASNE:

POSTED     Nov. 2, 2009, 11:37 a.m.
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