Friday, April 30, 2010

Coming to Reality TV: Supreme Court Arguments?

West face of the United States Supreme Court b...Image via Wikipedia
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee has forwarded three bills for consideration by the full Senate, including one that would permit televising U.S. Supreme Court oral arguments.

The Sunshine in  the Courtroom Act, sponsored by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), authorizes federal chief district and appellate court judges to permit cameras to televise courtroom proceedings. The measure invites the Judicial Conference to develop guidelines for broadcasting courtroom goings-on, along with steps to be taken to shield crime victims and undercover law enforcement agents.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also passed S.B. 446, concerning electronic media access to Supreme Court hearings, that provides: "The Supreme Court shall permit television coverage of all open sessions of the court, unless the court decides by a vote of the majority of justices that allowing such coverage in a particular case would constitute a violation of the due process rights of one or more of  the parties before the court." Sen. Arlen Specter (D.-Pa.) introduced the bill.

The Committee also passed a resolution by a 13-6 vote, S. Res. 339, that expresses the sentiment that the Supreme Court should permit live tv access to open sessions. The "sense of the Senate" resolution is nonbinding.  H.R. 429, the companion bill to S.B. 446, was introduced in January 2009, to the House of Representatives, but is still languishing in the House Judiciary Committee.

Given the Separation of Powers doctrine, it's unsettled whether the Legislative Branch can force the Supreme Court and the rest of the judiciary to broadcast their proceedings.

Viewers may have to wait awhile to watch: "So You Think You Can Judge?"

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Corrections Officials Bar Media Interviews of Death Row Inmate

1916 photograph of an execution by firing squa...Image via Wikipedia
On June 18, Ronnie Lee Gardner will be hooded, tethered to a chair, and a bullseye target  placed over his heart. Five sharpshooters will aim at the target with .30 caliber rifles, four of which carry live rounds, and fire.

If Gardner, who faces execution for murdering attorney Michael Burdell during a courthouse escape attempt on April 2, 1985, in the course of which he also wounded bailiff Nick Kirk, feels remorse toward the victim's loved ones or has any thoughts about his incarceration or previous crimes, he will take them to his grave. That's because Utah corrections officials, deviating from past practices, will not permit news media interviews of Gardner, according to The Salt Lake Tribune (

Utah law empowers prison officials to restrict communications with an inmate provided a "reasonable institutional policy" underlies the decision limiting access. Corrections officials contend that permitting media interviews would unduly focus attention on the criminal while ignoring innocent victims of his crime.

Opponents of the move argue that forbidding media interviews violates Gardner's First Amendment rights. At the time of his failed escape attempt, Gardner was appearing in court on 1984 charges of robbery and murder at a Salt Lake City tavern.

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

News Media Favorite Source: Outsource?

Hessians on the MarchImage by clairegren via Flickr reports today on a growing trend  among media outlets battered by declining ad revenues and shrinking readership--the use of stables of poorly paid freelancers to provide news content.

Companies such as Santa Monica, Calif.-based Demand Media, Associated Content in Denver, Colo., and New York-based America Online's SEED are providing articles to media giants such as Cox Newspapers, Hachette Filipacchi, and Thomson Reuters.  Freelancers from Associated Content have submitted articles to Woman's Day's Web site and the Atlanta-Constitution, while Demand Media writers regularly are featured in USA Today's Travel Tips section, according to has drawn on Associated Content for a series of articles about the economy.

Outsourcing articles previously written by staff reporters is a cost-savings measure. Associated Content, for example, can drawfrom its ranks of 350,000 writers to produce content for which the freelancers are paid anywhere from $5 to $30 per article.  Third party news writing is here to stay,which makes the devoted staff at "TUOL" uneasy and queasy.

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Pa. Landlord Loses Libel Suit

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In Charles F. Kurowski v. A. Parker Burroughs, Editor, Observer Publishing Co., Observer-Reporter (Case No. 1391WDA 2009, 210 Pa. Super. 69), Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge Robert Freedberg upheld summary judgment for the defendants previously entered by the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County in a defamation case brought by the attorney/landlord whose arson-damaged building was cited by the city.

As reported by the Courthouse News Service, Kurowski owns the building at 79-83 North Main St. that housed apartments and an addiction-recovery program, which was targeted by an arsonist. The municipality cited the plaintiff for failing to secure a vacant building.

The Observer-Reporter wrote a series of articles and editorials critical of the plaintiff's post-fire upkeep of the building and efforts to block the city's demolition of the structure, including an editorial entitled "City Should Target Run-down Properties" that ran 8/9/06, and an article headlined: "City on Lookout for Rampant Weeds," that appeared 7/11/07. The paper reported that the landlord plaintiff was cited for weed and grass violations by the city. Also, the Observer-Reporter criticized Kurowski for effecting building repairs at an "agonizingly slow pace."

Kurowski alleged that the defendants defamed him by portraying him as an unscrupulous businessperson and a "slumlord." The Superior Court disagreed, holding: "the expression of opinion in the editorial is not capable of defamatory meaning."  Judge Freedberg also noted the absence of evidence that the editorial's writer based his opinion on undisclosed facts.

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ABC News Layoffs Fewer Than Expected

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With more than 300 employees accepting voluntary buyouts, ABC News has limited its latest round of bloodletting to 22 staff layoffs, The Los Angeles Times reports.

Hold the celebration, as the 350-400 ABC staffers pink-slipped represent more than 25 percent of the 1,400-person news division (see "TUOL" post 2/24/10).  Casualties include ABC's special events department, as well as a policy shift at "20/20" and "Primetime," where freelancers are replacing full-time employees.

Bureaus were hard hit too, with L.A. losing 40 plus positions, including high-profile veteran correspondents Brian Rooney and Lisa Fletcher, while San Francisco shed Laura Marquez.  Except for Washington, D.C., ABC News plans to shutter its bureaus.

Forget Nightline--someone throw ABC News a "lifeline."

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Bicyclist Pumped After Libel Win

The peloton of the Tour de FranceImage via Wikipedia
Cyclist Mark French, who initially received a two-year cycling ban and was banished from the Olympics in 2004 for allegedly using and importing banned substances, has prevailed in his libel suit against the Melbourne-based Herald Sun and the Weekly Times, according to Web site

The Court for Arbitration of Sport-imposed ban on French was tossed on appeal in 2005, which opened the door to his suit against the Herald Sun for two articles that appeared in August 2004, branding him a drug cheat. The Victorian Supreme Court awarded French $175,000, plus $18,500 in costs.

In 2008, French successfully sued radio station Triple "M, which called him "un-Australian" and a drug cheat, for which he received damages of $350,000 and $57,000 in legal costs.  Nowadays, French operates a personal training program in Brighton.

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Shock Jocks Defeat Photog's Libel Claim

WKXWImage via Wikipedia
As reported in The Legal Satyricon blog, the U.S. District Court for the District of N.J. has ruled that falsely calling someone a homosexual does not rise to the level of defamation.

U. S. District Court Judge Joel A. Pisano granted summary judgment to the defendants on the defamation claim in Murphy v.Millenium Radio Group, LLC et al. (Case No. 08-1743). Photographer Peter Murphy sued Millenium, owner of radio station WKXW 101.5, and shock jocks Ray Rossi and Craig Carton, who allegedly said Murphy was an untrustworthy business partner and allegedly inferred he was homosexual.

According to the 15-count complaint, Murphy, then a freelance photographer for New Jersey Monthly, snapped a photo of the semi-nude Carton & Rossi that accompanied the magazine's feature profile of the duo. The photo allegedly was scanned and posted on the radio station's Web site and a myspace site that included bits performed by the radio duo, purportedly without a copyright notice crediting Murphy.

Judge Pisano said the defendants' remarks allegedly advising listeners not to do business with Murphy were nondefamatory "rhetorical hyperbole." The court further concluded that the terms gay and homosexual are not susceptible to a defamatory meaning.  The latter finding breaks from previous case law in the Garden State, which in 2001 found in Gray v. Press Communications LLC, 342 N.J. Super. 1, 10 (App. Div. 2001) that a false accusation of homosexuality was actionable under defamation.

Since the Gray decision, NJ has passed the Domestic Partnership Act (N.J.S.A. 26:8A1-13) recognizing gay and lesbian relationships, and allowed civil unions (N.J.S.A. 37:1-28, et seq.). Essentially, the evolution of societal thinking concerning same-sex relationships deprives "gay" and "homosexual" of a defamatory meaning, even if the terms are uttered with a defamatory intent, according to the Murphy decision.

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NYCLU Snaps to Develop Photog's 1st Amendment Case

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Backed by the New York Civil Liberties Union, photographer activist Antonio Musumeci is suing the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security and the Federal Protection Service, claiming the federal regulation used to arrest him last November for videotaping a political protest outside a federal courthouse is unconstitutional.

As reported in The New York Times, Musumeci, a 29-year-old software developer from Edgewater, N.J., recorded the arrest of a Libertarian pamphleteer outside a Manhattan courthouse before his own arrest for photographing the site of a federal agency without an authorized official's permission. The charge was later dropped, but the NYCLU claims the regulatory restriction of noncommercial photography in outdoor areas where the public is permitted runs afoul of the First Amendment.

Authorities confiscated the memory card of Musumeci's videocamera. He is seeking unspecified damages and declaratory relief that the government violated his constitutional rights.

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Christopher St., Riverdale?:Archie Comics to Introduce Gay Character

Jughead JonesImage via Wikipedia
Associated Press reports that Archie Comics, Inc. will enroll its first openly gay student at Riverdale High School when Kevin Keller debuts in the September 1, 2010, issue.

 Hunky blond Kevin Keller will have to rebuff the advances of frisky Veronica Lodge, according to a spokesperson for Archie Comics, and will best Jughead in a hamburger-eating contest. Readers wouldn't stand for a wiener-eating contest, because "Hot Dog" is the name of Jughead's beloved canine friend. What?

According to its Web site, more than 1.5 billion Archie comics have been sold. Over the years, popular spin-offs, such as Josie & the Pussycats and Sabrina, the teenage witch, have pumped up the financial ledgers.

No word on whether the debut of Keller will lead to other characters, such as "Big Moose" Mason and Benjamin Flutesnoot, questioning their sexual identity. "Over & Over," "Don't Touch My Guitar," and "Carousel Man," part of The Archies discography, may merit a second look.

Other comic book franchises may follow suit, depending on the readers' response to Kevin Keller. Don't expect to see Harvey (Milk) Comics on newsstands anytime soon.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

Boston Globe: More revenue, Fewer Readers

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It's a case of "good news/bad news" for New England's largest daily, The Boston Globe.

Thanks to a price boost, the paper, which is owned by The New York Times Co., saw an 8.3 percent increase in circulation revenue for 1Q 2010, compared to a year ago.  There is no popping of champagne corks at the Globe's Morrissey Boulevard HQ, however, as statistics from the Audit Bureau of Circulations(ABC) show the average weekday circulation of the Globe plunged 23.2 percent to roughly 232,000, compared to more than 300,000 in 2009.

The 23 percent drop is nearly triple ABC's average nationwide newspaper circulation decrease of 8.7 percent. Because of the shrinking readership, the Globe no longer ranks among the nation's 25 largest newspapers based on weekday circulation. Needless to say, these numbers are not "Taylor-made." (Sorry, non-Mass. readers, but "TUOL" permits itself an inside joke every so often.)

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Playboy Issues Multiplying Like Rabbits

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 12:  Publisher Hugh He...Image by Getty Images via Daylife
After a year of gloomy news regarding plunging circulation and staff cutbacks (see "TUOL" posts 3/1/10, 9/1/09), things are looking up for Playboy.

MediaWeek reports that the men's magazine plans to publish 11 issues this year and a full 12 issues in 2011, after previous reports that only 10 copies of the pulchritudinous periodical would appear on newsstands this year. Hugh Hefner's magazine recently outsourced its business operations to American Media, Inc. as a cost-savings measure, and circulation, which peaked at 7 million in the 1970s, hovers around 1.5 million nowadays.

Still, as contradictory as it may sound,  Playboy won't go bust

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Friday, April 23, 2010

UPDATE: NJ Appellate Court Says Blogger Unprotected by Shield Law

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College Mulls Suit Over Student Journalist's Public Records Request

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Highland Heights, Ky.-based Northern Kentucky University may file a civil suit in Campbell County Circuit Court following a mixed ruling by the Attorney General's office to a public records request by the school's newspaper, The Northerner.

Northerner reporter Jesse Call  in March requested access to records concerning grievances filed against the university by employees Michael Griffin and Blanche Pringleo-Smith, which included correspondence among the school's  Human Resources department and seven employees, according to an account in the college paper. The university refused Call's request, saying its investigation was ongoing and that poring over voluminous documents would be unduly burdensome.

The Northerner appealed to the Attorney General's office pursuant to Kentucky's public records law [KRS 61.870-61.884]. The AG sided with the university regarding withholding copies of the grievances and records directly related to the ongoing inquiry under the public records law exemptions [KRS 61.878] until the university takes final action concerning the dispute. However, the AG found there was "not sufficiently clear and convincing evidence" that producing correspondence and documentation unrelated to the grievance would pose a burden to the college.  In other words, compliance with a public records request necessarily involves the expending of some time and man-hours, but that in itself does not satisfy the "unduly burdensome" exemption under the act.

Under the statute, the university  has 30 days from the AG's decision to determine whether it will turn over the non-exempt records to The Northerner or pursue the matter further in a civil lawsuit.

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Students' Privacy Not Invaded in Oral Sex Articles

Official flag of Pierce county, Washington, U.S.A.Image via Wikipedia
A Pierce County (Wash.) jury has sided with a student newspaper against four students who alleged their privacy was invaded by an article that identified them as having engaged in oral sex.

The 10-2 jury verdict came after less than a day of deliberation following a four-week trial. JagWire, the Emerald Ridge High School student newspaper, published a series of articles about oral sex among the school's students that identified the plaintiffs by name and included  comments made by them.  The plaintiffs had sought damages ranging from $500,000 to $1.5 million on their invasion of privacy claim, according to a report by

The jury found that the four students had consented to the use of their names and remarks and that the stories published by JagWire concerned an important topic that raised vital health issues.  Although privacy laws vary from state to state, consent and newsworthiness are the principal defenses generally offered by media defendants in such cases.

JagWire did not act negligently toward the four students, according to the jury verdict.  No word of an appeal, but it would appear the plaintiffs know when they're licked.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

'On Wisconsin': State to Protect Journalists from Govt. Badgering

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Wisconsin is poised to become the 39th state to enact a shield law to protect journalists from having to reveal confidential sources following state senate voice vote approval of 2009 Assembly Bill 333, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

Democratic Gov. James Doyle Jr. is expected to sign into law the Whistleblower Protection Act sponsored by Sen. Pat Kreitlow (D-Chippewa Falls), which confers a qualified privilege on journalists against having to disclose newsgathering information or confidential sources. A government entity seeking such information from reporters would have to demonstrate its relevance, unavailability elsewhere, and an overriding public interest to overcome the shield law.

The Wisconsin Newspaper Assn., Wisconsin Broadcasters Assn., and Wisconsin Freedom Council all had a hand in the legislation. The District of Columbia and 38 states have passed shield laws. "TUOL" believes it only fitting that a state whose capital, Madison, honors the drafter of the First Amendment, should join the ranks of states protecting journalists.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Authorities Raid College Paper; Confiscate Riot Photos

City of Harrisonburg, VirginiaImage via Wikipedia
Offices of The Breeze, the student newspaper of Harrisonburg, Va.-based James Madison University, were raided by the county attorney's office and police last week, who confiscated hundreds of photos concerning an April 10 off-campus riot at which 30 persons were arrested and more than 40 were injured.

The Roanoke Times reports that The Breeze's editor-in-chief Katie Thisdell reluctantly complied with the request of Rockingham County Commonwealth Attorney Marsha Garst after it appeared authorities were prepared to remove the newspaper's computers.  According to the Times report, authorities copied more than 900 images from computer hard drives, only two-thirds of which depicted the riot. The fracas broke out at a spring gathering that drew more than 8,000 students.

The Breeze is being represented by attorneys from the Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Va. The SPLC believes authorities may have violated the federal Privacy Protection Act [42 U.S.C. sec. 2000aa], which shields news organizations from government searches  absent a warrant.

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Newspapers Stabilize; Industry Still 'Moody'

newspapers (Tehrān)Image by birdfarm via Flickr
Advertising revenues in the newspaper industry may rebound in 2011, according to Moody's Investor Services, which cautioned that long-term problems plaguing the industry could darken the forecast.

Moody's, a credit agency firm, anticipates newspaper advertising may continue to decline by 5 percent to 10 percent in 2010, but could level off in 2011 and possibly even increase 2 percent.  Declining revenues, decreased circulation, and  shutdowns have dogged the industry over the past year-and-a-half and caused Moody's to rate newspapers at the junk level.

The mildly positive outlook by Moody's was tempered by the expectation that advertisers will continue to defect from newspapers to other media, such as the Internet.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Media Ethics: (NJ) Devils in the Details

New Jersey DevilsImage via Wikipedia
According to an article in today's New York Times, the NHL New Jersey Devils  have found a novel way to gain newspaper coverage in Garden State dailies owned by media giant Gannett Co.

Eric Martin has written a series of articles appearing in Gannett newspapers, such as The Asbury Park Press. Martin, however, is not a journalist, but an employee of the Devils.  Gannett doesn't pay for the articles produced by the NHL franchise, and theoretically, is unrestricted in how the articles are edited.

"TUOL" has an inkling that none of Martin's articles suggest the Devils have no chance to win the coveted Stanley Cup. Conflict of Interest 101 courses at any journalism school pound into would-be journalists that it's not a good idea to run news stories produced by the entity being "covered" by the newspaper.  Memo to Gannett--not sending a reporter to cover the hockey team is forgivable in a  time of declining circulation and ad revenues, but sometimes a cost-savings is no substitute for a face-savings.

In this case, Gannett allowed media critics to aim for an empty net.

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Trade Publisher Slashes Almost Two Dozen Magazines

Cover of Construction Equipment magazineImage via Wikipedia
Reed Business Information-U.S., a business to business publisher owned by Reed Elsevier, will shutter 23 magazines, according to CEO Keith Jones.

Last summer, RBI successfully unloaded 21 publications, including Broadcasting & Cable and Publishers Weekly.  Among the 23 casualties are: Construction Equipment, Restaurants & Institutions, Professional Remodeler, Graphic Arts Monthly and HOTELS. Recently, RBI sold eight trade publications to Sandow Media.

"TUOL" will miss the centerfolds in Semiconductor International; always a guilty pleasure.

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Comcast Backing a New 'Nutwork'

NEW YORK - APRIL 13:  (FILE PHOTO) Actor Kelse...Image by Getty Images via Daylife
Comcast is a name partner behind a new conservative-themed television network set to debut this summer called RightNetwork, the Huffington Post reports.

A spokesperson for the broadcast entity said at a recent tea party rally that the programming will be designed for "people who believe in this country and believe we don't have to apologize to anyone... [and]...for people who live in what they call flyover country and what we call America." Take that, pinko Fox Network.

One of RightNetwork's most high-profile supporters is actor Kelsey Grammer, who, doubtless is thrilled at the prospect of another entertainment outlet that can air another of his failed sitcoms in which he plays Frasier Crane under an assumed name.

CORRECTION [4-20-10] --Comcast has denied sponsoring RightNetwork. Jennifer Khoury, Comcast Corporate Communications Veep, posted that Comcast has met with RightNetwork representatives, but has not made a decision to invest in, sponsor, or launch the network.

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Friday, April 16, 2010

Raising Hail: Contractor Sues CBS Chicago Affiliate for Defamation

Chicago SkylineImage by Paraflyer via Flickr
The owner of a shuttered hail-damage repair service has sued CBS Broadcasting, Inc.'s Chicago station, WBBM-TV, and investigative journalist Pam Zekman, among others, for a story aired alleging his company deceived homeowners, according to Courthouse News Service and the Northwest Herald.

In the suit filed in McHenry County Court, Xteriors, Inc. et al. v. Kavanaugh, Tyrus et al.(Case No. 10LA000135), the defunct Crystal Lake, Illinois-based Xteriors, Inc. and its owner Steven Tatgenhorst also named as defendants two former customers, an ex-employee and a subcontractor. A WBBM-TV report broadcast in April 2009, alleged the plaintiffs misled customers into signing contracts and in some cases, purportedly inflicted damage on roofs that was attributed to the elements. The suit seeks damages of more than $50,000.

The Better Business Bureau gave Xteriors an "F" rating, citing the company's alleged failure to respond to six of seven consumer complaints lodged against it.  Coincidentally, McHenry County Court is where Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan sued Xteriors, Tatgenhorst, and another company of his, Precision Roofing & Restoration, Inc., in April 2009, alleging violation of the Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Practices Business Act [815 ILCS 505] and the Home Repair and Remodeling Act [815 ILCS 513] for purportedly performing substandard work, and in some instances, allegedly no work at all, while retaining thousands of dollars in downpayments from customers.

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Click Your Heels 3xs & Protect Sources: Kansas Passes Shield Law

The current state license plate design, introd...Image via Wikipedia
After a near-decade battle waged by the Kansas Press Assn., the Sunflower State has joined the ranks of 37 other states by enacting a Shield Law protecting journalists from having to disclose confidential sources.

Democratic Gov. Mark Parkinson signed the measure, which takes effect when it is published in the Kansas Statute Book due out July 1. The Senate Substitute for H.B. 2585 defines journalist as: " (1) a publisher, editor, reporter or other person employed by a newspaper, magazine, news wire service, television station or radio station who gathers, receives or processes information for communication to the public, or (2) an online journal in the regular business of newsgathering and disseminating news or information to the public."  The definition is broad enough to protect uncompensated bloggers.

The statute follows the language of the seminal U.S. Supreme Court decision, Branzburg v. Hayes,  408 U.S. 665 (1972), in that a party seeking disclosure of a journalist's newsgathering material or confidential sources must demonstrate in court the unavailability of the information elsewhere after a diligent search and that the information being sought is both relevant to the subject controversy and of compelling interest.

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tweetin' Multitudes: Twitter Users Exceed 100 Million

The Twitter fail whale error message.Image via Wikipedia
Approximately 105 million users are gamely banging out 140-character messages on the San Francisco-based microblogging sensation Twitter, according to a Reuters news report.

Numerous private companies have developed Web applications enabling Internet surfers to access Twitter, and efforts to make the social networking outlet more accessible via mobile devices, such as cell phones, suggests that millions more will avail themselves of Twitter in the years ahead.

The numbers on which Twitter CEO Evan Williams  is focused, however, are in Twitter's bank account. As posted in "TUOL" yesterday, the company has introduced "Promoted Tweets" as a means to amass revenue from advertisers, such as Sony  and Starbucks, to have their messages appear first in searches.

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UPDATE: Ohio Supreme Court Vacates Judge Muehlfeld's Gag Order

Ohio Supreme Court lightImage by GmanViz via Flickr
In State ex rel. Toledo Blade Co. v. Henry County Court of Common Pleas (Slip Op. No. 2010-Ohio-1533), the Ohio Supreme Court this week unanimously overturned a gag order imposed by Judge Keith P. Muehlfeld as an unconstitutional affront to the First Amendment.

Judge Muehlfeld's order barred the news media from reporting on the involuntary manslaughter trial of Jayme Schwenkmeyer until a jury was impaneled in the trial of her boyfriend David Knepley. Judge Muehlfeld's order preceded both trials.  [See "TUOL" posts 1/21/10 & 1/29/10.]

In its 16-page ruling, Ohio's high court recognized the presumption against the constitutional validity of imposing prior restraint on press coverage of a public trial. The Court cited the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Tory v. Cochran, 544 U.S. 734 (2005), that reiterated the longstanding view that "prior restraints on speech and publication are the most serious and least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights."

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press submitted an amicus brief in the case.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

On the Money Side of the Tweet

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBase
Associated Press reports that San Francisco-based Twitter today debuted "Promoted Tweets," which it hopes will turn the popular social media outlet into a revenue producer.

Best Buy Co., Starbucks Corp. and Virgin America are among the companies who have shelled out money to have their messages appear first in searches.  It remains to be seen what the appraised value of a 140-character ring proves to be.

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