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Ernest Miller Ernest Miller pursues research and writing on cyberlaw, intellectual property, and First Amendment issues. Mr. Miller attended the U.S. Naval Academy before attending Yale Law School, where he was president and co-founder of the Law and Technology Society, and founded the technology law and policy news site LawMeme. He is a fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. Ernest Miller's blog postings can also be found @
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July 15, 2004

On Reporting Press Releases, Statements, Etc.

Posted by Ernest Miller

This week while blogging, I was frustrated a bit by my inability to get ahold of some primary documents easily. In Outfoxed Rope-a-Dope Begins? news reports referred to a statement that Fox News had distributed at a press conference for the new documentary OutFOXed. One report paraphrased parts of the statement and another had some quotes.

In The Excessively Annotated RIAA Letter on the INDUCE Act (IICA), I had some difficulty getting a copy of a letter that the RIAA had sent to all 100 senators. I called the RIAA, of course, and they promised that they would either get me a copy or call me to tell me I couldn't have one. Of course, they did neither. Unlike the coalition opposing the Inducing Infringment of Copyrights Act (IICA, née INDUCE Act), which made their letter to the Senators public (Letter to Senator Hatch, Re: S. 2560, the "Inducing Infringement of Copyrights Act of 2004"), the RIAA doesn't want the public to know the arguments they are making to our representatives (Letter to Senators from Mitch Bainwol, Re: INDUCE Act).

Nevertheless, the letter was reported by some members of the press. Unfortunately, the reports were, of necessity, paraphrases and quotes from the 5-page missive. But that is what frustrates me. I couldn't read the whole letter myself. Ultimately, after sending out numerous feelers, I was able to get ahold of a copy. But why was it so difficult? Why don't news organizations post these primary documents on their website?

In the print realm, of course you usually don't have room to put every document into the publication. In any case, it is a reporters job to take information, put it in context, highlight it, get reactions, do reporting. That's usually all most people really want. They have neither the desire nor the time to read the primary documents. But not always. For most stories there is a small core of readers who want more information, who want to read the primary documents and get more from the story.

So why don't news organizations post these documents on their websites, where file size is not really an issue? Why can't you have a story about the RIAA's letter and a link to the letter if you care to read it yourself? Why shouldn't we be able to read Fox News' statement for ourselves? Why should publications passively (tacitly?) acquiesce in the RIAA's desire to obscure its communications with our representatives?

Dan Gillmor is very smart when it comes to these things. As Denise Howell, who is blogging the Always On Conference, paraphrases Gillmor (AlwaysOn: Joe Trippi And Dan Gillmor):

Dan says one thing you learn if you cover technology in Silicon Valley is that other people know way more than you do, and it's to your and your readers' benefit to capture and disseminate that knowledge. Journalism is really moving from this lecture mode of the last few decades to something closer to a conversation; a seminar or something like it.
Indeed. And part of this has to be opening up the documents that a reporter builds a story from. Disseminate the documents, don't hide them.

Ok. Rant over.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Blogging and Journalism


COMMENTS

1. Seth Finkelstein on July 15, 2004 02:56 PM writes...

"... there is a small core of readers who want more information ..."

The key words there are "small core". Unless they care about that core, why bother?

It's more work to scan and maintain the files, for what they might perceive as marginal benefit.

In fact, it could be downright harmful if it shows what a shoddy job the reporter did!

Permalink to Comment

2. Richard on July 15, 2004 04:28 PM writes...

Also, consider that at least some portion of that small core (and I would guess a significant fraction) are going to want the documents for exactly what you wanted them for: to be able to write your own competing blog entry about it.

Being able to more easily obtain source material is one of the benefits of being an established news agency. I doubt that they're going to give it up without a fight, and certainly not of their own accord.

Permalink to Comment

3. Ernest Miller on July 15, 2004 04:33 PM writes...

Ah, but it could help make them more authoritative. I'm not saying they should post the material before they post the story, but post the material with the story. I don't think the mainstream press needs to worry about bloggers. They should work together.

See, Searching for the NY Times (http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,64110,00.html)

Permalink to Comment

4. Seth Finkelstein on July 15, 2004 08:31 PM writes...

Ah, but again, it could also make them *less* authoritative, as it makes it easier for people to find errors in their reporting! 1/2 :-)

But I think it's more that the reward for the work is not viewed as worthwhile.

Note the New York Times does not need Google-juice to make it more authoritative ...

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