E D I T O R N O T E S
Writers write. They also spend time in jail or courts.
Occasionally they are murdered. It is best when they
An interesting question from Steve: "I have a contract
with a large media company in the US. I work out of
London, cover meetings and write dispatches from
them. I take a lot of notes and get a lot of material
but my contracted company doesn't want to use all of
it. Is it OK for me to take those notes and interviews
and make new articles to sell to new markets?"
I couldn't give him legal advice although I did say that
all freelance handbooks I've read advise freelancers to
collect research for more than one assignment. The contract
or freelance writer owns the research, the writing, the
interviews unless he's foolishly signed it all away in
an "all-rights" or "work-for-hire" contract.
There are a lot of legal and ethical questions in writing and
publishing. What follows is meant to inform writers on subjects
that can prove prickly if you are ignorant of them.
In the resource box below I have put a generous supply of
links that help define and explain the terms.
Writers can stay out of hot water by using common sense and
keep an eye on that red-flag when it stands erect on something
you are about to write.
Don't be the reporter who got the Weekly Standard in Dutch
in 1997 when he interviewed disreputable sources for a
story on Deepak Chopra and ended up costing the Standard
a lot of money and embarrassment.
Or Drudge who ended up with egg on his face over the rumor
of the Kerry affair.
Writers, whether they are on staff or freelance have the
same responsibilities as those who publish them. Magazines,
especially, are so paranoid of law suits that editors will
usually cross out references in stories that send up any
red-flag. It's a narrow road sometimes. After all,
journalism is dealing with bad people, bad companies, bad
institutions all the time in a contentious society. A good
magazine is running the risk of pissing off someone at any
Libel and plagiarism are two legal thickets that can
get a writer in trouble. There have been a rash of book
writers, famous scholars, newspaper reporters, and others
whose reputations have been damaged by, especially,
plagiarism. The other difficult legal quandary is when
the courts give a reporter the option of revealing their
source or go to jail.
I certainly recommend the media law blog to anyone
interested in these questions.
A crucial battle is building between the traditional "shield
laws" writers have enjoyed in the past and the new post-9/11
world. The courts are more repressive, and more concerned with
"get the guy" than with the public's right to know.
Contempt of court is landing more journalists in jail. In the last several decades 14 writers have
in the last couple of years there have
been seven arrests. There is a definite chill in the
The right to know is becoming a kind of idealism the courts
nowadays tend to brush aside.
"These are journalists with national stature working for
mainstream, well-respected publications and broadcast
entities ... so I don't think they're going to be intimidated
into revealing their confidential sources," said Lucy
Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for
the Freedom of the Press.
A recent case involves Jim Taricani, TV reporter in
Providence R.I. He's been a reporter for thirty years. He
ignored a court order to reveal who gave him a tape damaging
to a defendant in a political corruption case and was found
guilty of criminal contempt. He was sentenced to a six-month
The statement he made after being found guilty underscores the
real significance of all this. "I wish all of my sources could
be on the record, but when people are afraid, a promise of
confidentiality may be the only way to get the information to
the public, and in some cases, to protect the well-being of
Confidentiality is the cornerstone of the public's right to
know. More media types are alarmed over this than they
have been over other hot subjects of late.
The outbreak of these cases has prompted a great deal of
interest in the shield laws.
There is a proposed federal shield law to deal with all of
Another link for those who question the Feds setting up the
Judith Miller is another case. She was given information about
a leak in the Bush Administration's outing of a CIA operative. The
court demanded the source, she and her co-defendant refused--
they will probably spend some time in jail. What makes this
more disturbing is that Miller never wrote an article on the
information she had; she merely conducted an interview in
anticipation of writing the article.
Most writers don't have to worry about this problem.
I doubt if food writers or copywriters are going to
be held in contempt for making a secret family recipe
public. But if a bitter rivalry broke out between
two chefs and one was found murdered and a third party
went to the food writer and told her what happened and
she wrote the story, then she may be forced to reveal
the source or go to jail.
We all need to worry about the effect on whistle-blowers
and others who will hesitate going to journalists
if the shield laws don't work.
Deep Throat remains the most famous concealed source in our
time and Woodward still refuses to reveal who he is because
"the man told a lot of lies to people he's closest to..."
So, we won't find out until the man leaves the Earth.
"Writing the truth, and being ready to prove it to be the
truth, is the only absolutely solid way of dealing with
libel actions." --John Morrish, Magazine Editing
Media lawyer Kevin Goering says, "If it's something you
wouldn't want to have said about you, it's probably
Libel is far more a concern for writers and editors than
One thing the last few years have proven is that juries like
to award people who have been libeled by writers and publishers
with lots of money. Retraction goes a long way to minimize the
damage but it doesn't prevent a lawsuit from occurirng.
In the AP Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law it is pointed
out that most libel suits come from small, seemingly
innocuous notices about court cases, implying someone is
a criminal. And most of these suits, as the Associated Press
outlines it, occur in the "publication of charges of crime,
immorality, incompetence or inefficiency."
According to The Magazine from Cover to Cover, writers are
negligent if they don't contact the person being defamed,
fail to verify information through excellent sources, or
a disagreement occurs between the writer and the source over
what exactly was said.
Lately it has been the "right to privacy" that writers and
journalists have to be aware of. Violation of the right to
privacy can be an actionable offense and includes
trespassing into a source's private property, among other
things. Written consent is always the best policy if you are
Bunnin and Beren in The Writer's Legal Companion suggest that
the best defense to libel action is simply to scrutinize the
story. Does anything in the story point to associating a
person with something deemed "bad?" If so, look at it
carefully, look at the facts that have been asserted and only
include it if you are absolutely certain of that fact. Messing
up at that stage could be very costly to your reputation and
If you are a reporter and cover a meeting in which a
public official makes a libelous statement, then report
it, you are not held accountable in most cases. It is called
"privilege defense," and assumes you are fair in the
reporting of the public meeting.
If you criticize someone or something in an article you need
to give all the reasons why you are criticizing him or her
or the restaurant or the museum. Why did you come to form the
opinion you did? If that is written out then you have a fair
comment or criticism defense against libel.
According to the Columbia Encyclopedia businesses account
for about 70% of all libel lawsuits against the media.
Journalists rightly argue that suits of this nature can
have a very chilling effect on the ability and desire to
find out the facts for the public good. Remember that it's
not a "fact" which protects a writer from libel but a "provable
fact." And that is a different beast.
In the past six months a new type of suit has emerged,
what the Society of Professional Journalists calls a SLAPP
suit, "strategic lawsuit against public participation."
According to a Columbia Journalism Review story, in a TV
Broadcast a dentist in Cincinnati was accused of malfeasance.
He didn't sue the station, but sued the people who had accused
him, a tactic used to make the accusers retract statements
and leave the station without credibility.
There was a disheartening story out of Kansas. It appears
that a teacher flunked her entire class because they
had plagiarized their work. The parents protested and went to the
school board, who stood behind the parents and not the teacher.
She, naturally, quit and went on to better things we hope.
The plagiarism of Jayson Blair brought the New York Times
to its knees. The USA Today was embarrassed by a similar
scandal. In these cases it was a matter of shocking disregard
for journalism ethics and a quick exit from the profession.
For others it is a bit more confusing; not quite as black and
Sometimes responsibility is shared by the writer and the
publication he writes for.In 2003 a feature writer for the
Norristown Times Herald was caught copying twelve paragraphs
from another daily. He was fired. To get his job back, he
filed a grievance. The arbitrator said while he did plagiarize,
the publication was equally at fault for not educating the
newsroom about how to properly attribute information they got
from the internet.
Most writers understand the concept of plagiarism. They
know if they take someone's work and submit it as their
own it is plagiarism. They know if they go up on the Net
and get information and paste it into their own copy
that it is plagiarism. They know if they have not documented
references they are plagiarizing. What they may not suspect
is if they take a piece of writing of their own, change
a few words around, and then submit it to another magazine
as a different work it would be considered a plagiarized
The habits of this problem can be learned very early on.
Most teachers say they encounter plagiarism or what they
suspect is plagiarism every school term.
These sites provide an excellent survey of the problem and
some resources to rectify it.
From a legal standpoint plagiarism is a violation of copyright
and "fair use" of another's material. From an ethical
standpoint it is using someone else's work and getting credit
When we read something we are always mentally cataloging
that material in one form or another, arguing with it,
skimming over it, and so forth. The best way to avoid
plagiarism is to write down the story you intend to write,
in your own style, thinking through what you are going to
say, and begin the process of research. And when you come across
something you didn't know before, note it in the article,
then, if justified, attribute it to the person who came up
with the idea. That is the safest way to go, the fair way,
the right way.
A spot-on piece of advice: "Don't sign anything you don't
understand." Most freelance contracts are fairly simple but
book contracts can be complicated. Even if you have an agent
or lawyer you must read that contract line by line and understand
what every statement means. When you are satisfied then you sign
it. If any part of the contract confuses you, you must address
it with the agent, the publishing house, the lawyer, whomever
you are dealing with.
Avoid "work for hire" or "all rights" contracts. Editors are
instructed to get these type of contracts because magazines
or newspapers know the different channels of distribution a
particular piece of writing can go. If you decide to sign a
contract only do so if the publishers up their offer and if
you are convinced you aren't going to do anything more with
the piece. But, obviously, the publication wants exclusive
rights to the piece so it means they already know of other
markets they can stream that piece to.
R E S O U R C E S
A general survey of the "freedom of the press."
Read Nick Usborne's review of Bob Bly's course, "Selling
Yourself as a Copywriter - How to Earn $100,000 a Year".
For Freelancers Only:
The best advice I've heard of late? Prepare ten or a dozen
ideas with their own queries and send them out at the same
time and work those queries until something breaks.
Free Agent Nation
Deadlines and the freelance writer, from Suite 101
Article on editor and writer relations by Marcia Yudkin
How to find foreign markets by Gary McLaren
C r a f t :
From the Society of Professional Journalists comes this
story about small-town newspaper writing and how it's
bring vitality to the craft.
Guide to Citation Style Guides.
O r g a n i z a t i o n s :
Society of American Business Editors and Writers
Evangelical Press Association
The Center for Public Integrity
The Pew Center for Civic Journalism
Reporters Without Borders
Native American Journalists Association
J-Lab- The Institute for Interactive Journalism
P u b l i s h i n g :
Print types are sounding very pessimistic of late. At the
very least they are sounding an alarm which will make change.
M A R K E T S A N D L E A D S
pays up to $800 for unsolicited/$1200 for assigned article
Up to $400 for unsolicited/$800 for assigned article
pays up to $1,200 for articles
pays $1/word for articles 800-3,000 words in length
Don't hesitate to tell us what you are looking for.
Here is an index of writer guidelines.
Assistant editor wanted for financial letter.
Location: New York, NY
Growing publishing company in need of assistant editor for
its publication New America Investor.
For full ad click here.
Location: New York City
ACD-Copy, RX Pharmaceutical, Interactive
Avenue e has an opening for an Associate Creative Director (Copywriter).
This person will have responsibilities overseeing the creative product on
major pharmaceutical interactive accounts. The ACD must have strong
oral/written communication, presentation skills, strong conceptualization skills,
experience managing multiple projects, interfacing with clients and in
developing creative solutions.
For full ad click here.
Location: Washington D.C.
Advancement Project, a national racial justice organization, seeks a senior level
writer/editor to join our communications team in the Washington, D.C. office. We
are seeking an experienced writer/editor to produce a broad spectrum of written
For full ad click here.
Location: Arlington, VA
If you’re challenged by research and have some strong clips
to prove you can write, this might be a good opportunity.
Nonprofit needs confident writer to digest scientific reports
and write about them in clear prose, taking policy implications
into account. The goal is to neither oversimplify the research
nor get bogged down in the details. Can you separate the crux
from the minutiae and work with researchers to build a strong
story with a point of view?
For full ad click here.
QVC, Inc., a $5.5 billion company, is an e-commerce leader,
marketing a wide variety of brand name products in such
categories as home furnishings, licensed products, fashion,
beauty, electronics and fine jewelry. QVC reaches over 85
million homes in the United States. The company s world
headquarters is located in West Chester, PA.
To help continue our success, we are in search of a talented
and experienced Copywriter for QVC s Product Content Division.
For full ad go here.
Job Links for new leads!
If you have any suggestions about markets you want
guidelines for, just drop a line
A T C/ O A S I S
A Change of Scenery For Joanna: A story by Elizabeth
He had been afraid the hotel would not please her
and when he asked her if the room was all right, his
uncertainty sounded in his voice. She stood beside the bed
and pulled the cover away from the pillows. "It will do,"
she said. "Let me rest for a bit, Martin. It's been a
Miami, a story by Julio Peralta-Paulino
It seemed to him more like a mall than an airport, as he sat
at the Bacardi bar --which tried to recreate a lost atmosphere
from someone’s idea of Havana in the Forties-- nursing a
Unheard Story by Muhammad Nasrullah Khan
The hot tea sucked me back into reality, my mind
rudely awakened from frequent naps. It had recently
succumbed to the habit of chasing thoughts unrelated
to the topic at hand. My mind returned: ‘Wasteland’.
A Salty Taste of Spring by Tracie L. Vida
The full moon hung, fecund and creamy, in the black morning sky. The silence reverberated against my eardrum: no birds, no cars, no garbage truck. Because of the absolute darkness, I felt I lied when I wished my husband good morning.
Hey, we even have a new literary newsletter and you can get it free
if you click here!
>>>>>>>N e w f o r m s o f p u b l i s h i n g<<<<<<
The American media are struggling with how to respond to
bloggers. Some see bloggers as an explosion of free speech,
while others view them as vigilante partisans.
Many bloggers say the endeavor has enriched their lives,
but some worry about finding balance and keeping their
obsession in check. "There is a narcotic quality
to it," says one blogger.
Bloggers are not professional journalists -- unless, of course, they also happen
to be professional journalists, writes Eric Alterman. "Good journalism takes
time and often money."
Bloggers are prone to the same biases, mistakes, feeding frenzies and self-important
elitism that the current wisdom says distinguishes them from the traditional media,
writes Randy Falco.
There's also a dark-side to blogging and Mr. Rall takes
its on. Worth thinking about.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> t h e f r e e p r e s s <<<<<<<<<<<<<
Discouraging article about the plight of journalists in
these days of distrust.
Where bloggers count is in countries where the absence of a free
press is painful reading about. Here's an excellent account by
the Online Journalism Review.
The New York Times is prepared to provide news to its
readers on paper, via TV or over the Internet, says company
chairman Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. "We are
Most online editions of newspapers still depend upon
newsprint editions for their content and financial support.
However, the newsprint editions "can decreasingly
afford to provide it."
Some publishers believe that switching to a tabloid format
may attract disaffected newspaper readers. But such a move
could alienate longtime subscribers and advertisers.