Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Do You Have a Right to Blog?


At the end of October, I had the pleasure of attending the New Media and the Marketplace of Ideas conference at Boston University. This conference brought together both lawyers and communications professionals to discuss how new media affects both of our fields.

One session I found particularly interesting was on the blogosphere.

Sherrese Smith, deputy general counsel for The Washington Post.Newsweek Interactive, spoke first. Ms. Smith spoke about the various legal issues involved in blogging. One of the topics touched on is if companies have a legal right to keep their employees from blogging. “You always have the right to say whatever you want but you may not have a right to a job,” said Smith.

Moderator Joseph Steinfield, Partner at Prince, Lobel, Glovsky, and Tye joked in reply, “As long as there are lawyers, bloggers will be at risk.”

Yet, despite the warning, Ms. Smith views blogs in a favorable light. She believes blogs offer a place to engage the reader and defends her company bloggers rights to have comments sections. Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act protects bloggers from being liable for content that they do not create themselves -- guest bloggers, user comments, and RSS feeds, for example.

Lisa Williams, who runs H2otown, a community and news site for Watertown, MA, and Placeblogger.com, an aggregator and searchable directory of independent local blogs, offered a personal perspective on blogging. Williams blogged anonymously for years. “The net is not erasable,” says Williams. “Some day we will elect a president who did something stupid on MySpace when he or she was 16.” She believes the culture of transparency that blogs create will be forgiving.

John Wilpers, former editor-in-chief of Boston Now rounded out the session. He spoke of trying to involve bloggers in the traditional media. While at Boston Now, Wilpers hired bloggers to have their writing published in both the paper and online. Readers commented that they liked the local color they got from reading the local blogs.

As traditional media struggles to compete with blogs, some tension has arisen. Smart companies are working with bloggers, rather than fighting them, and reaping the benefits.

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